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Science takes a note from nature

InnovationSpace team working on a project. From the left Mark Small, Edmund Jolley, Mike Chhay, Michelle Jack and Jenna Stevens working with Prasad Boradkar in the class. Photo by Mary Kivioja and Prasad Boradkar. 

Science takes a note from nature

For more than three billion years, nature and life on earth have evolved with the transcendence of time.

So the question that begs the mind of many at Arizona State University is how we can use this information to develop life-changing solutions to human challenges.

The Biomimicry Center at ASU has been given $99,072, the highest annual award, from Women & Philanthropy, an ASU foundation, enabling them to help answer that very question.

The Center set out to achieve this by creating more sustainable products for those with visual and mobile impairments using ‘biomimicry.’

The Biomimicry Center at ASU was created through a partnership with Biomimicry 3.8 and works closely with the Biomimicry Institute, where they can enhance their learning from the new processes and techniques by which these groups are using this method.

Biomimicry, the practice of mimicking natural processes of living organisms to create answers to complex human challenges, may be a methodology not known by many. 

However, one of the most functional and well-known products, Velcro, was born at the very idea of biomimicry.

Prasad Boradkar, co-director of the Biomimicry Center and leader in the "Life in Motion: Exploring Biomimicry-based Mobility for People with Visual and Mobility Impairments" project, says that it was the “compelling and powerful idea” behind the proposal that helped them receive the grant.

“I think they saw the area we are looking into and methodology by which we are doing this as really compelling and something that could have impact,” Boradkar says.

Past products produced for the disabled have proven to be expensive, ephemeral, poorly designed and hard to repair, so The Center’s goal is to design assistive technology that will be more sustainable based upon their observation of nature, Boradkar says.

The project began its journey at the start of the Fall 2015 semester and is estimated to take about a year or more to complete, Boradkar says.

Boradkar is joined by a passionate team of interdisciplinary academics, including Co-director Dayna Baumeister, Assistant Director Adelheid Fischer and Business Operations Specialist Mary Kivioja.

Kivioja recently graduated with a degree in Business and Global Health from ASU in 2014. She says she is thrilled to have the luxury to apply the interest and knowledge she already had by handling the financial and budgetary matters with the project.

“I think it is an exciting new field that has come to ASU and can really be applied in so many different fields, so I don’t think it will be necessarily just science students that latch on to this idea,” Kivioja says. “It’s really something that any discipline at ASU can really incorporate into their education.”

She adds that she is particularly happy to be working on this project because she says it feels “more important and impactful.”

This scientific method is most prominently based out of the Biomimicry Center, but the School of Engineering at ASU is also using this practice for a project of their own.

Edward Kavazanjian, senior sustainability scientist at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment says their project has four focus areas: Geologic Hazard Mitigation, Environmental Protection and Restoration, Infrastructure Construction and Natural Resource Development.

Kavazanjian says their project was founded at the engineering school, but involves a magnitude of students and professors from many different disciplines, such as earth sciences and life sciences.

The diversified learning environment will serve as a valuable learning experience by “catering to education in many ways and exposing them to a very interdisciplinary endeavor,” he says.

The School of Engineering and the Biomimicry Center are planning to collaborate in their ventures by creating a partnership.

“We got together and I think there will be fertile ground for collaboration between our students and the Biomimicry Center and we really hope to get engaged in some of their programs… So we are very excited about that and the synergy between the two groups,” Kavazanjian says. “I think that holds a lot of promise and it will extend the region of impact for both centers.”

Since its March inception, The Center has not slowed its ambitions in what they hope to bring to the university and the greater community as a whole.

According to Kivioja, The Center’s ultimate goal is to create “long-term competency and assistive technology;” however, the center has also launched a master’sprogram and certificate to truly hone in on the education of biomimicry.

As for the project and overall learning experience, Boradkar and his peers hope the students will be left with inspiration, ambition and determination to help make the world a better place.

“I hope the students leave with this idea of ‘we need to do good in the world, we can use biomimicry as a means of doing good designs, we can focus on taking care of issues with disabilities and together we can really lead some positive change in the world,'"  Boradkar says. 

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