Biomimicry is the examination and mimicry of natural systems by engineers, scientists and inventors. Although the term "biomimicry" was first used in 1982, man has looked at nature to find inspiration for problem-solving technology since the beginning of time. For example, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) studied bird flight when designing his "flying machine," as did the Wright brothers when creating the first successful airplane in 1903.
Ask Nature (a project of the Biomimicry Institute) is a collaborative site where biologists, designers and engineers can share information on how nature solves problems, with the goal of helping engineers to mimic biological adaptions to solve human problems. The rest of us should visit the site to read "What is Biomimicry?" and watch founder Janine Benyus describe twelve design ideas inspired by nature.
In this interview, Benyus explains how and why engineers can learn from nature. Be sure to download the first chapter of her book "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature." You'll find the link at the top of the left-hand column. "The core idea is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth."
"Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a new discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example. I think of it as 'innovation inspired by nature.'" Although there is some overlap in content at Biomimicry Guild and the Biomimicry Institute (they are sister organizations), this site includes K12 curriculum ideas (look for the Youth Ed link under Education and Training), and a reading list that includes recommendations for both adults and children (filed under Resources.)
"What do a gecko, a burr, a kingfisher, a termite mound and a lily pad all have in common? They're all examples of things that have inspired people to develop new products to meet human needs." This fun, printable handout (written specifically for kids) gives oodles of examples of nature-inspired designs. For example, African savannah termites build huge towers of dirt and spit that stay cool in the desert heat, and warm during cool nights. Using similar ventilation duct techniques, architects have created a building in Zimbabwe that does not use any air conditioning or heating, saving nearly 90% in energy costs over comparably-sized buildings.
"Biomimicry is a interdisciplinary approach to problem solving in which biologists, engineers, chemists, business leaders, and more combine their expertise with the knowledge put forth by nature's evolutionarily refined elements to progress the fields of technology, transportation, renewable energy, and beyond." The San Diego Zoo has created a collaborative network to promote biomimicry called BRIDGE. Their site is an excellent resource for news items about biomimicry in action, online videos, and suggested reading. Look for these under the Resources menu item.