Educational Focus: Place Based Education
Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature
Book Review 4 of 4
Reviewed by Allison Irwin
PCTELA Director of Special Activities
The Earth’s rich biodiversity is almost lost on us. We live in partitioned communities, travel maybe once or twice per year, and rarely interact with anyone or anything outside of our own microcosm. Have you ever just stopped to watch an ant carry multiple times its own weight in dirt across the sidewalk? I once stopped to marvel at the little creature while I was in the middle of lugging heavy bags of groceries in from my car. I was even a little envious.
If I studied the little guy long enough, would I be able to figure out how he does it? Would I be able to mimic his strength? Benefit from his unique evolution? To be honest, probably not. But this book is filled with scientists and leading researchers who are doing just that. And not just with ants. They’re studying spider webbing, photosynthesis, mollusk feet, rhinoceros horns, and DNA to learn the secrets that animals and plants have harbored for centuries.
Each chapter revolves around a common theme. One chapter discusses ways to improve our agricultural system which currently depends upon fertilizers and pesticides. Every year tons of topsoil laden with these chemicals and nutrients wash down the rivers from our bread basket to the Gulf of Mexico polluting our waters and increasing the negative effects of hypoxic zones. Biomimicry author Janine Benyus writes of farmers all over the world who are drastically changing their methods in order to lighten the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Not only are these farmer-scientists supporting a more symbiotic relationship with the Earth, they are also reducing their overall costs, maintaining basically the same output, and strengthening their intuitive understanding of the earth they’re farming.
She writes about mussels and the incredible, naturally secreted super glue they use so they don’t drift off with the current. Biomimicry was published quite a few years ago. While most of it still reads as cutting edge, it’s interesting to look at where we were 20 years ago compared to now. The super glue she was just hinting at in her text is now a reality. Even though we’re headed in the right direction, scientists have a hard time truly replicating the mysteries of nature.
Biomimicry, biomimetics, and bioneers are three words you can use to dig into this topic further on Google. It’s worth exploring. One of my favorite websites for current information, videos, and examples of biomimicry is managed by The Biomimicry Institute. They offer a full array of educational resources to use in the classroom. If you want more up-to-date examples of biomimetics, check out this article from Science Focus Magazine titled Biomimetic Design: 10 Examples of Nature Inspiring Technology.