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Author Speaks Of “Nature’s Blueprint”

By Jacob D. Roberts, Contributing Writer

How can we learn from nature to get water without wells, materials without mining, or cooling without AC? Over 150 graduate students, faculty members, and Cambridge residents packed into a crowded Loeb Auditorium at the Graduate School of Design to hear author Janine M. Benyus address those very questions.

Biomimicry, as Benyus puts it, is about asking, “What would nature do if it sat at the design table, from the smallest light bulb to a city or region? What would nature’s consultation do to change the way our designs look and function?”

The talk, titled “Borrowing Nature’s Blueprints,” consisted of a series of case studies that sought to highlight the solutions to problems faced by designers, architects, and other innovators that could be found in nature.

One such problem: residents in Japan became bothered by the mini-sonic booms created by the bullet train as it exited tunnels near residential areas. Benyus said that the solution was found by turning to a bird called the Kingfisher, which catches its prey by dive-bombing into bodies of water without creating a single ripple thanks to certain properties of its tapering beak. Design firm JR West solved the noise issue by adapting the nose of the train to mimic the Kingfisher’s beak, increasing the train’s speed by 10 percent and reducing energy consumption by 15 percent in the process.

Students in attendance said they appreciated the novel examples that Benyus shared. Constantine A. Bouras, a GSD student who took exhaustive notes on the talk, said that it was “imperative that biological mechanisms be integrated into architecture.”

Biomimicry might be an unfamiliar field to many undergraduates, but in 2008 it was the beneficiary of the largest gift in the University’s history, when Business School graduate Hansjörg Wyss gave $125 million to found the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. The institute seeks to “discover the engineering principles that Nature uses to build living things...[to] revolutionize healthcare and create a more sustainable world,” according to its Web site.

Benyus said she hoped scientists at places like the Wyss Institute would keep striving to learn more from nature.

“We are so young as a species on this earth,” she said. “We’re in the process of growing up, and part of that is realizing that we are not alone and there have been some elders who have been here a lot longer than we have.”

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