News Brief

AskNature.org Connects Designers to Biomimicry Research

www.AskNature.org, maintained by the Biomimicry Institute

If biomimicry brings nature’s solutions to bear on design problems, AskNature.org brings modern internet technology—and the expanded audience it facilitates—to the biomimicry discussion. The site, created by the Biomimicry Institute, offers an encyclopedia of nature’s solutions to common design problems such as structural support, adhesion, energy harvesting, and cleaning. Natural design solutions are linked to products based on that solution when they are available (an entry on photosynthesis, for example, links to an entry on dye-based solar cells).

www.AskNature.org, maintained by the Biomimicry Institute

Each entry on AskNature.org features a single design solution from nature, such as the way butterfly wings scatter light to create colors without the need for pigments.

Image: AskNature.org, a project of The Biomimicry Institute

If biomimicry brings nature’s solutions to bear on design problems, AskNature.org brings modern internet technology—and the expanded audience it facilitates—to the biomimicry discussion. The site, created by the Biomimicry Institute, offers an encyclopedia of nature’s solutions to common design problems such as structural support, adhesion, energy harvesting, and cleaning. Natural design solutions are linked to products based on that solution when they are available (an entry on photosynthesis, for example, links to an entry on dye-based solar cells).

What makes the site unique isn’t just the fact that it pulls together biomimicry research in one easily accessible resource; it’s that users can generate content through online discussions and submissions and can also apply to be curators of content in their fields of expertise. In this way the site can grow beyond the expertise of the current team of editors at the Biomimicry Institute, creating the potential for rapid growth in access to innovative, environmentally friendly technologies.

Janine Benyus, naturalist and founder of the Biomimicry Institute, announced the launch of AskNature.org at the November 2008 Greenbuild convention. So far the site is relatively small, with about 700 examples of natural design solutions and fewer than 30 products (the products are not necessarily “green,” but are inspired by natural solutions in some way). Entries are brief, limited by a lack of research or the need for a knowledgeable curator.

Either by design or by result of the limited content, the experience of browsing the site is more serendipitous than practical. Type “build” and the search engine suggests searching for “build a house.” The search results include information on how iguanas expel fluid, how the long-eared owl maps sounds, and how house sparrows self-medicate to prevent malaria by lining their nests leaves of the paradise flower tree.

AskNature.org is a platform for inspiration, not a toolbox of ready designs. If it can surmount the challenge faced by all user-driven tools and gain a critical mass of experts and content, it could become a powerful tool for design and construction.

 

Published December 4, 2008

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