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STEM Careers are the Future


“STEM offers a cooperative, innovative, and exciting work environment that is unparalleled,” says Aimee Kennedy, vice president for education and STEM learning at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio.  Employment in occupations related to STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is projected to grow to more than 9 million by 2022 according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Wages in STEM fields are currently higher than the median.  STEM occupations require skills that build on each other.  For example, mathematics are required for physics.  Physics is required for engineering, which in turn can advance technology.  The ability to see problems from a different view and clearly explain solutions are critical to success in STEM occupations.  Many professionals lack these skills and have difficulty bridging ideas outside of their expertise if they were trained in a traditional educational system.

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Part 3: Biomimicry for coastal protection

About 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of a coast and that number continues to increase. We all know too well the challenges and hazards associated with this trend.

As described in Part 1 however, we exacerbate the coastline’s natural resilience to storm surges, high wind and waves as we continue the ‘domino effect’ of erosion and shoreline armoring. We build harbors, marinas and other public access points to the water as well as protective structures to calm the waters near those access points, but that causes adjacent downdrift shoreline erosion. That affected shoreline, in turn, then requires armoring to mitigate the wave energy directly breaking on its shoreline.

How do we break this cycle? What is the balance between human activities in and along Lake Erie and natural processes? Do human activities directly oppose natural processes or can we find a synergistic and regenerative relationship?

Much of this topic was covered in Biohabitats’ Summer Solstice 2017 issue of Leaf Litter. The theme was Restoring Ecology Along the Urban Waterfront. I encourage you to check out the issue here. I even contributed an article entitled “Ecological Restoration Toolkit for the Urban Waterfront.” Many of the current solutions that Chris Streb mentioned in his presentation at the Biomimicry Open Innovation Session were covered in that article.

I’ll touch on a few solutions today, but I encourage you to check out the included links for more information.


Visualization of a natural, industrialized and reimagined shoreline by Biohabitats – featured in their Summer Solstice issue of Leaf Litter


I love the above visualization from Biohabitats. This image shows the potential of balance between the natural and industrialized coastline. Try to find all the additional green space in the reimagined photo!

The reimagined photo shows a couple of elements. One element is the floating wetland in the waterfront channel. Floating wetlands (FWs), an ecologically engineered technology, represent an effort to mimic the wetlands and marshes that existed long ago along our freshwater and marine shorelines. FWs hold the promise of returning ecological services like pollutant uptake and transformation, water quality improvement, wave attenuation, habitat, and aesthetic beautification. Biohabitats has deployed or studied floating wetlands in locations such as Jamaica Bay, NY, Potomac Yards in Washington, DC, and Orleans, MA.

Floating wetlands

Floating wetland – provided by Chris Streb, ecological engineer at Biohabitats

Floating wetlands work best in calmer waters however, generally near bays, marinas and harbors.

Higher energy environments are tougher, but wave energies are significantly reduced by underwater structures. These structures can be natural like sandbars or created elements such as living breakwaters constructed from oyster shells and spat, ECOncrete armoring units or Biohut breakwater units by Ecocean.


Spat set on oyster ball ready to be deployed at Gerritsen Creek- originally featured in Biohabitats’ Summer Solstice issue of Leaf Litter

Another element shown in the reimagined photo above is a submerged structure attached to the seawall. This structure is related to a project I mentioned yesterday in Part 2: the “greening” of the bulkheads along the Cuyahoga River shipping channel. Biohabitats completed a project with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission (CCPC) designing, installing and evaluating hexagonal steel casing structures attached to existing bulkheads (or seawalls) filled with various habitat-supporting materials such as bioballs, sticks and brushes. Six-month testing showed that all designs accumulated a biomass layer and small organism attachment and proved durable within the channel.


Securing bioball baskets – originally featured in Biohabitats’ Summer Solstice issue of Leaf Litter

Green bulkheads

Successful installation of hexagonal structures along the bulkheads – provided by Chris Streb, Biohabitats

Many of these solutions use natural materials and attach to existing protection structures or exist as separate elements. If we look back at the potential areas of focus explored during the Biomimicry Open Innovation Session, one focus was materials. What if instead of natural material (woody debris and vegetation) versus built material (rock, cement and steel), we considered a third category of material? Alternative, biologically compatible materials that offer both functional and ecological benefits? What would that look like?

What if we used the principles of wave dissipation from a kelp forest or freshwater marsh or the principles of connectivity, hierarchy and material composites in a coral reef to design our coastal protection structures?

These questions and more will be the focus of my PhD research, and I will continue to share updates with you in future blog posts! Have more ideas? Comment below and I hope you enjoyed this three part introductory series!

Additional References:

The featured image is a wetland restoration at Freshkills Park in New York City. More information about the restoration project can be found here:

Part 2: Biomimicry for coastal protection

Yesterday, I ended the blog post with a question: How does the disconnection of the land-water interface by hard coastal protection structures and other shoreline disruptions affect ecological processes and biological life cycles?

I will just touch on some information regarding how altered shorelines of both rivers and lakes affect fish populations as an indicator of water quality and health for aquatic ecosystems. This topic was the focus of our second introductory presentation at the Biomimicry Open Innovation Session described in Part 1. I recognize that fish are just one aspect of a healthy aquatic habitat. There is also aquatic vegetation, benthic macroinvertebrates, phytoplankton & zooplankton communities and algae populations to consider. All these populations are linked and comprise the complex food web of Lake Erie, although the food web is much less complex with the presence of invasive species disrupting various points in the food web.

Before summarizing our second presentation given by Scott Winkler with the Division of Surface Waters of the Ohio EPA in Northeast Ohio, I’d like to show an image depicting the life cycle of freshwater fish species.

Freshwater fish life cycle

Life cycle for freshwater lake species in Europe

This image comes from a final project report on “greening” bulkheads in the shipping channel of the Cuyahoga River that my sponsor, Biohabitats, led a few years back. At the time though many local area fish biologists were consulted for the project, there was not a life cycle diagram for freshwater fish in the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Erie.

It is known that larval and juvenile fish experience high attrition rates within the channel during spawning and development, especially the last five miles of the Cuyahoga River from the ArcelorMittal steel mill to the mouth of the river. Jane Goodman, Executive Director of the Cuyahoga River Restoration, referred to this part of the river as a “23-foot deep, steel-walled bathtub” in a September 2015 article posted on

The availability and diversity of food for fish within the channel is very limited as well as natural microhabitats that provide shelter and cover like the interstices of rocks, dendritic roots and overhang nooks. Because of the depth and width of the shipping channel created for the shipping industry, the dissolved oxygen levels are a low because of the slow flow of the water to the open lake. In the September 2015 article, it was noted that it took young fish 14 days to swim from the top of the channel to the mouth of the river because of the stagnant water.

I mention the conditions of the last few miles of the Cuyahoga River before the open lake because it is important to consider habitat requirements of all aspects of an aquatic species’ life cycle in restoration practices.

Scott’s presentation during our Open Innovation Session just focused on the makeup of the nearshore fish population along different points of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline. What did he find?

What are our nearshore fish populations?

Scott described the fish sampling locations along the nearshore all along Ohio Lake Erie’s coastline and the type of fish sampled. He showed the below chart, which shows five distinct fish assemblages that emerge when fish sampling data from 1982-2015 is compared for similarities of species by weight.

Five groupings of fish

Five groups emerged when fish samples from 1982-2015 were compared to each other for species similarity by weight – provided by Scott Winkler, Ohio EPA

Group 1 is a diverse assemblage with many fish that require different habitats, which includes rock bass, brown bullhead, bluegill, round goby, largemouth bass, common carp, white perch, rainbow trout, walleye, golden redhorse, gizzard shad and emerald shiner. Group 2 is also diverse, but contains species that are more tolerant of water quality and site conditions, such as turbid or muddy waters. These tolerant fish include smallmouth buffalo, yellow bullhead, orangespotted sunfish, bigmouth buffalo and white crappie. Group 3 consists of species ubiquitous to Lake Erie and are likely to be found in any sample anywhere. Those fish are emerald shiner, white perch and gizzard shad. Group 3 also consists of species that are generalists and are tolerant of pollution and environmental factors such as, common carp, largemouth bass, freshwater drum, and bluegill.

Freshwater drum

Freshwater drum (a less desirable species) – provided by Scott Winkler, Ohio EPA

This fish group is only slightly better than Group 4. Group 4 is just those species found anywhere in Lake Erie. These species do little to explain the conditions of the sampling location. Group 5 is a combination of Groups 3 and 4, but with additional complexity by the presence of benthic insectivores (i.e. bottom-feeding insect-eaters) such as, golden, black, and shorthead redhorse. The following images show which groups of fish are present along the fish sampling locations along the coastline.

Western shoreline ecological groupings

Western Ohio Lake Erie shoreline – ecological groupings of fish species – provided by Scott Winkler, Ohio EPA

Ignore the numbers on the map and only focus on the color coding for each fish group 1-5. On the western half of the shoreline, Group 1 is found primarily around the Lake Erie Islands off Sandusky and the Black River Harbor of Lorain. These areas often have clear water and submerged aquatic vegetation. Group 2 is found only in Sandusky Bay, Maumee Bay, and the Portage River: areas that are often turbid.  The samples on the open lake shore are only Groups 3, 4, and 5.  Higher energy shorelines have higher energy fish populations- i.e. Groups 3, 4, 5. On the eastern half of the shoreline, Group 1 is confined to the harbors. Group 2 is found in the Cuyahoga River at Cleveland Harbor and found once in the Grand River at Fairport Harbor. Groups 1 and 2 are found in calmer waters even without the presence of vegetation.

Eastern shore ecological groupings

Eastern Ohio Lake Erie shoreline  – ecological groupings of fish species – provided by Scott Winkler, Ohio EPA

Keep in mind that these fish assemblages include invasive species and that the groupings do not take weight into account as they are plotted on the map. Common Carp makes up one third of the weight of all the samples.  The top five species (common carp, freshwater drum, largemouth bass, quillback and small mouth buffalo) make up two thirds of the total weight of all fish in the dataset, indicating that these groups really aren’t all that diverse. To learn more about the different fish and minnow species in Ohio waters, ODNR’s Division of Wildlife Species Guide Index is a great resource. I also came across Fish Base. Just type in the common name of your fish, click USA or other relevant location, and you can find information about this species’ environment, distribution, suitable habitat, life cycle and many other details, including a list of tools, special reports, Internet sources and a list of various ecological indicators based on models.

Scott concluded his talk with two main points. The first was that turbid or murky waters affect fish populations the most. Murky waters also affect the persistence of submerged aquatic vegetation – both a food source and resting place for many fish – as the sediment in the water disrupts the depth in which light can penetrate through the water column. Stormwater and upland runoff from heavy storm events contribute to the murky waters of our nearshore, often found in our bays and harbors – where both human agricultural and urban (think: impervious surfaces) activities are most present.

His second point was that no one wants to swim in a washing machine. Which means, fish don’t like to hang out in high energy waters! While we can’t calm the waters of our entire shoreline, we can create pockets of calmer waters for both fish and to reduce erosion of our shorelines, if we design our shore protection structures from a systems ecology perspective rather than just a structural or functional engineering perspective.

My last and final part, Part 3, will focus on our last presentation from our Open Biomimicry Innovation Session, by Chris Streb – ecological engineer at Biohabitats. He focuses on current practices and solutions for coastal restoration that balance both traditional protection requirements of erosion control and human activities along the shoreline (recreation, shipping, residential) with the provision of aquatic habitat for all species in Lake Erie.


Part 1: Biomimicry for coastal protection

Back in late February near the start of my PhD, my sponsors were asked if they had an interest in organizing a Biomimicry Open Innovation Session for 2017. Similar to last October’s Open Innovation Session organized by former Biomimicry Fellow Emily Kennedy (now a graduate!) and her sponsor GOJO, the idea is to pose a challenge statement unique to your industry that is open to collaboration and biomimicry design thinking to seek potential solutions. These sessions leverage the regional biomimicry community with support from Great Lakes Biomimicry.

Following many planning sessions with my three sponsors (Biohabitats, Cleveland Water Alliance, ODNR) as well as Great Lakes Biomimicry throughout the year, the Innovation Session was held at the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room on Wednesday November 1st from 1-5pm. 26 people from 8 unique institutions participated with 10+ biomimicry models identified and abstractions generated!

Innovation Session group photo

Participants working on biological model identification and principle abstraction at the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room, credit: Christine Hockman, Great Lakes Biomimicry

The challenge statement was as follows: To incorporate habitat features into existing and/or new shore protection structures to provide aquatic habitat for targeted fish species and enhance ecological functions, benefits and services in both freshwater riverine and coastal environments

Three potential focus areas were given:

  1. Structure: Alter structure to absorb or dissipate instead of reflect or refract wave energy. Wave reflection & refraction result in altered sediment transport pathways along Lake Erie’s shoreline.
  2. Habitat utilization: Nursery habitat for larval and young fish, habitat refugia that provide hiding places and protection against predators, feeding habitat for foraging fish.
  3. Materials: Soft structures utilize natural materials, like woody debris and vegetation, while hard structures are comprised of rock, cement and steel. Consider alternative, biologically compatible materials that offer functional benefits. Or, offer a solution between hard and soft structures or a structure that can be a combination of both hard and soft materials.

Throughout this week, I have prepared a three-part series (Tuesday through Friday morning) to share the content from the introductory presentations given at the start of the Innovation Session. I am presenting all this information for a few reasons. First, for those who didn’t attend to learn about what was presented and discussed. Second, for all those who follow this blog to learn more about the background behind my PhD thesis. 2018 (Year 2) is coming up for me already, which means a hopeful thesis proposal defense by the end of Year 2!

The three presentations were:

  • Characterization of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline through the lens of coastal protection – Jim Park, ODNR Coastal Engineer (Part 1)
  • Aquatic habitat for targeted nearshore and open fish populations of Lake Erie – Scott Winkler, Ohio EPA Division of Surface Waters (Part 2)
  • Coastal restoration: Project examples of coastal protection and ecological function – Chris Streb, Biohabitats Ecological Engineer (Part 3)

Part 1: Characterization of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline through the lens of coastal protection

What is a shore protection structure?
Jim gave many examples, which included revetments, seawalls, groins, breakwaters and beach.

Revetments are typically composed of large, rough, angular rock on a slope that dissipates wave energy on both the slope and rough surface. Revetments typically protect the foot of a cliff or a dune, or a dike or seawall against erosion by wave actions, storm surge and currents.

Revetment example

Example of revetment – provided by Jim Park, ODNR

Seawalls are vertical structures at the land/water interface designed to prevent erosion and storm surge flooding. They are made of concrete block, cast-in-place concrete or steel sheet pile. Seawalls reflect wave energy; they do not dissipate. Seawalls provide easy access to the water by boats docked along the wall. Steel sheet pile seawalls are almost exclusively used along the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland for transportation of goods by freighters and for recreational boaters to dock by restaurants along the water.

Seawall example

Example of seawall – provided by Jim Park, ODNR

Groins are shore-perpendicular structures made of stone, concrete or sheet-pile. They are effective in beach protection and had widespread past use in Ohio. If you are familiar with the Cleveland coastline, there are a few stone groins at Edgewater Beach and a few being installed at Perkins Beach currently!

Groin example

Example of groin – provided by Jim Park, ODNR

Breakwaters can be submerged, off-shore or connected to the land and are made up of large stone. They are designed to reduce wave action. Breakwaters are usually built to provide calm waters for harbors and marinas. Submerged breakwaters are specifically built to reduce beach erosion. A beach is typically formed or retained on the landward site.  They may also be referred to as artificial “reefs.”
If beaches are there, they are the most natural and effective form of shore protection.

Concrete rubble

Eastern Cuyahoga and Lake Counties – concrete rubble

The Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie is one of the most developed and structurally protected of the Great Lakes. Structural protection began in the early 1800s with the development of harbors, but any protection structure caused adjacent downdrift shoreline erosion. The affected shoreline, in turn, then requires armoring to mitigate the wave energy breaking directly on the shoreline rather than dissipating along the beach. As the Lake Erie Commission explains in their 2004 State of the Lake Report, “This ‘domino effect’ of erosion and shoreline armoring continues to this day.”

These shore protection structures have limited natural habitat value and alter coastal and hydrologic connections that in turn affect ecological processes and biological life cycles. On the mainland shore of western Lake Erie, the current coastal protection structures are not favorable to the nearshore biological community in both structure type and composition.

We know that coastal protection structures alter the primary mode of wave energy reduction; i.e. some reflect the waves back into the lake or refract the waves instead of dissipate. We also know these structures disrupt sediment (or the more technical term – littoral) transport pathways across the lake and many cause downdrift shoreline erosion. We also know they disconnect the land-water interface. How does this connection and other disruptions affect ecological processes and biological life cycles? We will touch on this question some with Scott Winkler’s presentation on nearshore fish populations tomorrow for Part 2!

Feel free to comment below or reach out to me on LinkedIn throughout this week if you have questions or ideas to contribute!


Fuller, J.A., and B.E. Gerke. 2005. Distribution of shore protection structures and their erosion effectiveness and biological compatibility. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Sandusky, Ohio.

[LEC] Lake Erie Commission. 2004a. State of Ohio, State of the Lake Report. Toledo, Ohio.

*Note- All shore protection structure photos were part of the presentation given by Jim Park on November 1st at Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room. Permission was granted to share content and photos.

Holland Award for Biomimicry.

IRI 2017 Member Summit: 2017 Holland Award Winner from the University of Akron on her paper on Biomimicry.

October 4th I attended the Industrial Research Institute (IRI) Members Summit in Forthworth Texas. The IRI is an organization of nearly 150 individual and service companies who have a common interest in the effective management of technological innovation.

This years summit was super exciting as the IRI created a specific Bio Inspired Design (BID) Track. As BID and Biomimicry are continuously gaining popularity among R&D leaders this was an amazing opportunity to present about the field to such an industry focused audience. Speakers on the day included Emily Kennedy, a recent graduate from the Biomimicry fellowship program at the University of Akron and now acting Director of External Relations for the Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center at the University; Thomas Marting, Facilities and Resources Management Director at GOJO Industries, Emily’s prior fellowship sponsor company; along with professors Michael Helms and Marc Weissburg from the Center for Biologically Inspired Design at Georgia Institute of Technology. Among these experts was myself and my sponsor, Dan Dietz from the JM Smucker Company who were asked to contribute on our experience as we come to the end of the first year of my five year fellowship program. Nerve racking to say the least but a great opportunity for both myself and Dan to speak about the program and we very much appreciated being asked to contribute.

The talk itself lasted just over an hour and sparked some very interesting dialogue among the crowd. It was this 1 hour experience that opened my eyes to the world of industry and their perspective of the bio inspired design process. Although all who attended were intrigued and interested the level of prior knowledge of the field baffled me. Being surrounded by such an amazing cohort of people at the University of Akron doing such exciting work in the field and having an amazing supportive sponsor like JM Smucker I had become somewhat oblivious of the novelty of this field to others, especially those in industry. Thus, I began to question my research focus, which thankfully being in my first year I’m still able to do. I began to question why this field is still such a novelty to others especially those in industry? Is it simple a lack of awareness of the field or do they know of it but have no idea how to adopt or implement such a process into their company? It is clear from numerous case studies, research papers and news articles biomimicry and BID are among the newest cutting edge technology in regards to innovative design thus why are more companies not adopting this process? These are the type of questions I hope to answer and potentially solve over the next few years of my PhD.

With that said this unawareness of Biomimicry and BID was counterbalanced about 3 hours later when Emily Kennedy and Thomas Marting were awarded as this years winners of the IRI Maurice Holland Award for their article, “Biomimicry: Streamlining the Front-End of Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products,” published in Research-Technology Management (RTM)’s July-August 2016 issue.

AwardEmily Kennedy and Thomas Marting being presented with their IRI Maurice Holland Award for their article, “Biomimicry: Streamlining the Front-End of Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products”.

The RTM is IRI’s bi-monthly journal focused on the practice of innovation. Since 1958, RTM has published peer-reviewed articles that map the cutting edge in R&D management, illustrate how management theory can be applied to real situations, and give leaders of research, development, and engineering the tools to promote innovation throughout their organizations. The Maurice Holland Aware is awarded to papers published the previous year according to the criteria of significance to the field of R&D, technology, and innovation management; originality of new management concepts; and excellence in clarity of presentation. This year’s winning article provides industry with qualitative and quantitative data of the advantages of applying Biomimicry at the solution discovery stage and encourages R&D leaders to investigate this low-risk, high return approach for driving innovation and sustainability.

I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and I am excited to hopefully get the opportunity to present at this summit again as I begin to answer some of these questions.

Learn Programming with Bees, Balance, Biomimicry

I have been working on Biomimicry curriculum for STEM as part of my sponsor TIES – Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM- work. Given my background in computer science, I was interested in teaching basics of programming to k-12 using biomimicry. Here is a summary of this project targeting grade 3-5, which is a collaboration with Emma Parker, Resident Teaching Artist of Dance, from Center for Arts inspired learning in Cleveland.

This program integrates the arts with coding and biomimicry. Interested in movement/dance throughout the natural world, students will explore the movement of bees for encoding and decoding of communication. Within working groups, students will have the chance to discover how environmental surroundings affect swarming techniques. Using the integration of the computer software Scratch and the basic movements of dance, students will code a dance to mimic a swarm of bees moving across particular terrains. Using Scratch, codes will be created to determine where the movements of each group will take them within the natural terrain of the predetermined map. Each group will create a program in Scratch to decipher these dance movements; here they will learn about simple programming techniques such as creating variables, conditional and repetition statements. This could be as a competition where each group has to figure out the other groups’ secret location through a coding questionnaire and observation skills.

Participants will…

  1. Understand emergent behaviors in nature
  2. Design techniques for coding using Scratch computer software
  3. Apply dance/movement techniques to mimic bee communication through biomimicry
  4. Develop code questionnaires to translate movements generated by biomimicry processes

Its a four 1-hour course, below is a summary of day schedules:

Day 1- Introduction of Biomimicry – Emergent Behaviors

Here students will explore swarming in nature and humans, through unpacking activities, they discuss emergent behaviors, at the end of 1 hour, students will work with pre-made kit of our lesson plan

Day 2 – Movement and Coding Exploration

Here students will learn ‘Variables’, ‘Sequences’, ‘Conditional statements’, ‘Repetition’ through dance movements and programming in scratch.

Day 3 – Building Code Questionnaire

Here Students will build out a code questionnaire in Scratch. The code questionnaire will build observation and critical thinking skills as students are asked to create question and answers that match their dance codes from the previous day.

Day 4 – Showcase, Observe, and Assess

Description: Showcase and test day. A perimeter that resembles the landscape of the nature interface created for the Scratch code will be replicated within the room. Groups will then enter the space and perform their dance codes. Groups not performing will determine through the questionnaire what landscape and final destination the code represents. Observation of movement sequence, variables chose, and repetition will factor into determining the final location of each group.

If you are interested, please check a draft of scratch code and let me know to send you final lesson plans when its done:

Dead Fish Swim Upstream

Hi all, I recently passed through the crucible of Comprehensive exams. I have been studying a whole suite of topics for the last eight months or so most of which revolve around my research interests in how fish control their maneuvers.  One interesting topic that I looked into was how fish interact with their flow environments. I wanted to take todays post to do an expose on some really interesting work done by James Liao out of The University of Florida at Gainesville. What you’re about to read is an answer from one of my exam questions,

Dead trout can swim upstream. Now that I have used up my clickbait, here is a more technical description of what we will be discovering: A freshly killed trout can passively achieve forward thrust when towed in a Karman wake. To understand how this work first we must understand the hydrodynamics of a Karman wake. Water flowing past a bluff body (a log in a stream) alternately sheds vortices clockwise and counterclockwise. These vortices rotate inwards, toward the center of the wake and are offset as a function of the vortex shedding frequency and the velocity of the wake. Flow visualization shows an expanding wake with a zig-zag pattern of vortex cores with opposite signs.

Between two vortices, the rotation of each constructively interferes forming a jet between. This jet is oriented perpendicular to the angle between the path of the two vortices and the direction of flow. These jets are linked as each vortex shares two neighbors. The result is a jet with a component of upstream flow as well as oscillating lateral flow.

Live trout swimming in uniform flow have small lateral body displacement and body curvature is lowest at the head and increases toward the tail.


Body kinematics I use on a fish robot in the lab. The head is 1. tail is 5.

However, in a Karman wake the trout adopts a slaloming gait, exhibiting large lateral displacements and body curvature. The lateral flow described above generates the lateral body displacements and probably aids in generating the body curvature. The frequency of lateral body displacements matches the frequency of vortex shedding. The upstream component propels the fish forward. EMG tests from trout swimming in these Karman wakes show reduced muscle activation. The kinematics of freshly killed trout very closely resemble the kinematics of live fish. The body resonates with the frequency of the vortex shedding and allows the fish to hold station in the wake. These wakes can even provide enough thrust to move the fish upstream, all the way up into the suction zone directly behind the bluff body. Live fish have more control over this Karman gait. They can selectively apply drag to maintain station in the optimal region of the wake. They can also modulate body stiffness to match the resonant frequencies of their bodies to the frequency of the Karman wake.



This ones not dead just a beautiful example of a brook trout



I particularly like this example of fish locomotor behavior because it is shocking and counter intuitive. It recognizes that a locomotor control can be simplified by “programming” the material properties of the system, in this case the body stiffness. This example has implications for increasing the energy efficiency of aquatic vehicles. I could envision a system where the energy extracted by a fish robot swimming in a Karman wake could be used to charge its batteries, and redeploy without having to be retrieved from the water to charge.

fishrbt (2).jpg

A fish robot like the one I’ve built for my research could potentially be charged by gathering energy from flow features like karman wakes or wave energy.


Full citations and for further reading see:

Liao, J. C. (2004). “Neuromuscular control of trout swimming in a vortex street: implications for energy economy during the Kármán gait.” Journal of Experimental Biology 207(20): 3495-3506.

Liao, J. C., D. N. Beal, G. V. Lauder and M. S. Triantafyllou (2003). “The Karman gait: novel body kinematics of rainbow trout swimming in a vortex street.” J Exp Biol 206(Pt 6): 1059-1073.

Managing for Uncertainty: Undertaking a Resilience Assessment of the Lake Erie Coast.

The shores of Lake Erie conjure up a wide variety of mental images, from the Cuyahoga River catching on fire multiple times in the mid-20th century, to wide swaths of fish kill washing up on the beaches to now where there are stand-up paddlers, to kids swimming on the shores and building sand castles. The Lake Erie coastline and health of the waters have drastically improved thanks to heavy investment, progressive research on water quality, and policy implementation – all with the aim to improve the health of Lake Erie and the Lake Erie shoreline.

The Great Lakes hold roughly 20% of the world’s freshwater resources. We realize the important asset we have right in our backyard. River fires aside, we are now also beginning to understand the great responsibility we have in managing our assets well into the future. This will be a great challenge, however, as Lake Erie is one of the most stressed of the Great Lakes. The University of Michigan’s Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping (GLEAM) project shows the challenges we’re up against. This map shows 34 of 50 stressors, from nitrogen loading to invasive mussels. Things like rising temperatures, decreasing ice cover, and the increase of harmful algal blooms exacerbate the cumulative stress.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 11.21.10 AM.png

Despite continued investment in local restoration activities, the stresses and resultant consequences (such as harmful algal blooms) remain persistent and ever-present. Speaking with state representatives recently, the frustration in the room was palpable; money seems to keep pouring into the Lake with investments, but we’re still dealing with the same problems we were ten, twenty, thirty years ago. It’s clear that a new approach is needed. Through the fellowship with the Cleveland Water Alliance; in partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Office of Coastal Management; and Biohabitats, we’re taking measurable steps to move from local acts of restoration to a holistic approach to systematically linking the projects on a broader scale to leverage each individual project and deepen the impact of investment.

Last week, in partnership with the Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs and members of the Resilience Alliance, along with a range of stakeholders from government representatives to utilities to fishery managers, and academics, we undertook a two-day full Lake Erie coastline resilience assessment. The method involves analytically understanding parts of the system and constructing conceptual models to start identifying thresholds, feedback loops, and variables that can either undermine or contribute to the system’s general resilience.

A main element to start these discussions is understanding and identifying the scale. This is not an easy concept to nail down, particularly when we’re dealing with non-linear, constantly dynamic systems that don’t care about our political or administrative boundaries. Yet, we need to come up with a spatial scale so that our brains can both wrap our heads around the issues, as well as how it fits into our political and administrative boundaries (while still being aware of scales above and below our focal system, as well as also staying aware of cross-temporal scales). The aim is not to come up with immediate solutions, but to start thinking differently – systemically, and across boundaries, and continuously iterate the conceptual models and integrate the outcomes and/ knowledge outputs into policy – so that collectively, we can manage uncertainty and inevitable changes to Lake Erie.FullSizeRenderDr. Allyson Quinlan of the Resilience Alliance discussing conceptual models and feedback loops. 

This workshop took place over two days in Cleveland, Ohio. During those two days – at the end of September and officially in the fall season, we broke a heat record with 90F temperatures. Multiple area schools closed down for a day, while others dismissed early because of excessive heat.   With that backdrop to the discussion, it only solidified that we need to find an alternative path forward in our new climate reality if we are to be stewards and cultivate a healthy Lake Erie for future generations and ourselves.

Mental Health and Resilience

The connections between people and the outdoor environment are not always immediately obvious. It has been noted numerous times, for instance, that in periods of high stress or disaster people, specifically, and communities, in general, seek out and create avenues of sudden nature exposure, or, as it is termed by (Tidball, 2012), express “Urgent Biophilia.” Many communities forced into immediate distress by either natural or man-made disasters focus suddenly on greening a place through an increase in urban gardening, tree planting or other environmental stewardship. Numerous war veterans find relief in gardening. Gardening is also an established therapeutic activity for people who experience autism. (Louv, 2005). In short, high stress seems to bring out a need to connect or “…an affinity for other living things…” (Kellert and Wilson 1993).

As in the diagram copied below, Tidball proposes that the stress release creates a “back loop” (the green areas of the cyclic ribbon) in which those times during and just after the greatest stress are the times of the most urgent biophilia. He proposes further that conservation or environmentally-minded legislation (an investment in policies that protect the environment) tends to sit within those periods of community involvement. This space is where humans try to find direction to demonstrate resilience and adaption in times of crises.

Graph loop

That this demonstration of resilience is frequently expressed through nature exposure is worthy of note.

Nature Education vs Nature Awareness

It is a popular thought in environmental/ecology education that involving people in the outdoors gives them a real grasp of the nature of the environment and their place in it. In theory, it also gives learners a chance to develop numerous layers of higher level thinking, as supported by authors like (Spellman et al. 2015). While evidence of this, by and large, seems to be proven true by many, the ability to relate experiences of the (wild) outdoors to urban life frequently seems a difficult connection to make. Many environmental programs that take learners to the distant outdoors and far off farms find that, while on the individual level learners often make deep personal discoveries, the ecological/environmental connections in their daily life are not discovered. ‘Environment’ and ‘outside’ get termed far away and not ‘here‘, by urban learners. Many organizations have found, however, that exposing these same learners to the environmental community near them (i.e., local community gardens, park stewardship, urban waterway health monitoring and general urban environment/nature exploration) not only proffers an easy connection to self and environment but also promotes a sense of environmental responsibility and stewardship (Kransy and Tidball 2010).

Discussions and teachings about ecological/environmental learning benefit from an awareness that the types of connections people make with nature and the environment need to be proximate and pertinent to the world the learners live in. Otherwise ‘environments’ are seen as ‘out there’ and not as affecting the individual. Communities where environmental education programs are implemented and thoughtfully intertwined with local activity lead to better community/environmental stewardship.

This brief discussion is just meant to lightly illustrate that at our best we are creatures of our environment and our success/survival depends on keeping in mind where that environment/our safety net is. Divorcing ourselves from understanding that the environment is not just out there but right here cuts the strings to a significant resource in education and wellness, just under our feet.

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Kellert, S. R., & Wilson, E. O. (Eds.). (1995).The biophilia hypothesis. Island Press.

Krasny, M. E & Tidball, K. G., (2010). Urban environmental education from a social-ecological perspective: Conceptual framework for civic ecology education. Cities and the Environment (CATE), 3(1), 11.

(Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books.

(Spellman et al. 2015)

Spellman, K. V., Deutsch, A., Mulder, C. P., & Carsten‐Conner, L. D. (2016). Metacognitive learning in the ecology classroom: A tool for preparing problem solvers in a time of rapid change?. Ecosphere, 7(8).

Tidball, K. (2012). Urgent biophilia: human-nature interactions and biological attractions in disaster resilience. Ecology and Society, 17(2).

Bringing Biomimicry into Makerspaces

This post will expand upon Banafsheh Khakipoor and my experience at DigiFabCon ( held in Boston, MA in March 30 – April 1, 2017. For those unfamiliar with makerspaces, they are a place where people with fabrication, computing or technology interests can gather to work on projects sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. The convention attendees were a mixture mostly composed of makerspace enthusiasts, educators, and professionals. DigiFabCon offered two days of lectures and a day of hands-on workshops held at local Boston makerspaces.  I will reflect upon my experience of bringing biomimicry into makerspaces in a practical manner.

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