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Young innovators turn to nature for inspiration, invention

June 13, 2019

For passive control of tidal electricity systems, permeable courtyard tiles, and fog water collection units, three winning teams of middle school and high school innovators looked to cucumber seeds, plants from the yam family and Namib beetles, respectively.  The three projects were among the six selected for recognition out of 78 participating in the 2019 Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge.  Biomimicry approaches sustainable innovation by looking first to nature to find proven competencies — patterns and strategies in the systems vernacular — for dealing with similar challenges.  The resulting innovations often draw models for adaptation or replication from unexpected aspects or elements of nature.

“Other innovations honored in this year’s Challenge were inspired by the unique traits and strategies of hagfish slime, oyster reefs, prairie dogs, and Saharan silver ants,” writes Gretchen Hooker for the Biomimicry Institute (BI), the Challenge organizers.

Combining STEM elements, innovation, and entrepreneurship through team-based experiential learning, biomimicry education and challenges present a promising approach toward growing more sustainable, responsible innovations and innovators.  Descriptions of all of the honored projects from the Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge are available here. A college/adult version of the challenge is conducted annually as well, with first prize providing a $100,000 cash award, provided by the Ray C Anderson Foundation.

To begin to inspire more nature-based approaches to problems your own entrepreneurs, researchers and students are  exploring, the Biomimicry Institute offers introductory courses to the topic and maintains an interactive portal, AskNature, that helps to reframe thinking about the problem with a more sustainable lens and provide examples of how nature already addresses the same issues.