Biomimicry: Copy That.

Urban Camouflage
Urban Camouflage

There’s a new hybrid of science — biology and engineering — called “biomimicry” (by-o-mim-ih-cree – I make up my own pronunciation tricks, by the way…). “Mimicry” is means to copy, to mimic.  Now, biomimicry is what IDEAS do scientists and engineers take from nature to help humankind, such as


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.”

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. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

Like the viceroy butterfly imitating the monarch, we humans are imitating the best adapted organisms in our habitat. We are learning, for instance, how to harness energy like a leaf, grow food like a prairie, build ceramics like an abalone, self-medicate like a chimp, create color like a peacock, compute like a cell, and run a business like a hickory forest.

The conscious emulation of life’s genius is a survival strategy for the human race, a path to a sustainable future. The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

Main Entry: mim·ic·ry

1 a : an instance of mimicking b : the action, practice, or art of mimicking
2 : a superficial resemblance of one organism to another or to natural objects among which it lives that secures it a selective advantage (as protection from predation)

Focus on the “superficial resemblance of one organism to another or to natural objects among which it lives that secures it a selective advantage…” Basically, what do some animals do to hide so they survive? They don’t want to get eaten. Well, who does? So…what do they do?

This lead me to think about: what do we humans do to survive in our natural habitat?

Well, many of you try to keep your hoods on. Or your hats. You don’t wear anything that is not the ‘normal’ clothing, so you don’t stand out. You won’t read your papers to the whole group, or do a presentation. You won’t raise your hand, take a risk–you might be wrong, and people might think you’re a geek, a nerd, you’re dumb, etc. Some of you survive by doing  just the opposite – standing up in class, shouting a bad word at the teacher (well, not me, but a guest teacher –you’re too smart to say a bad word to me) and you make your escape – you escape from the lesson, the learning, the assignment – and you spend your time in mental camouflage in the detention room.

You escape to get a drink of water, go to the bathroom (where we know you are texting your friends), and once in awhile, when you’re actually in class, or post an assignment, you take a risk–you show what you learned, or where you need help. And you hear another reminder to take off your hood. “Oh, my bad,” you say, yet–you were just trying to survive.

Perhaps it’s time to make a new survival plan: Mimick those behaviors of students who are successful. We just talked about this, but it bears repeating. I’m not trying to make you all into little robots who can recite or who know everything. I’m trying to help you survive the big, bad, world out there–build your background knowledge so you have skills and strategies to navigate the world. Look outside the classroom. Acting like a turtle and putting your hood on, or bellowing like a lion to bolt out of class doesn’t get you too far.

Those survival behaviors again: Ask Questions. Read Directions. Ask Questions again.

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