This week I helped run a biomimicry workshop with high school kids. Many thanks to Dr Doug Fudge for inviting me in on the session, and Jamie Miller for making it all happen.
During the workshop Dr Fudge showed off his research into whale baleen , and the amazing slime from hagfishes. Jamie and I played with the students, helping them extract functional insights from the organisms and then leading brainstorming sessions around further research questions and design ideas. Overall it was a great experience, biomimicry encouraged everyone to look at the organisms in a different way, and ultimately Dr Fudge was thrown some questions and ideas that he has never considered before, which is always a success.
But the Hagfish Stole the Show
I just returned from the Biomimicry Education Summit in Cleveland, which was fantastic, and explains a little lull (breather) in the blog postings. I will warn you that if I get a spare moment there will be a torrent of ideas bouncing around that have been stirred up over the last few days.
Remember the discussion about the future of materials? Biodegradability as a scenario of sustainability? On Monday morning John Warner, the godfather of green chemistry, gave a talk about his journey and the true story of how stuff could and should be made in the future.
He also shared the secrets of the future of hair dye, but you’ll have to ask him directly for that.
For those of you who haven’t had the luxury of seeing an industrial chemist spin an incredible, compelling tale about the reality of the profession, I have included one of John’s lectures below. It is an incredibly important story, because to most of us Industrial Chemistry is a pretty frightening partnership of concepts. It is a black box of science that shapes everything we do, and yet is poorly understood by most. It turns out that it is even poorly understood by the chemists, who have traditionally had absolutely no formal education in toxicology, and therefore an extremely limited understanding of the impact of the synthetic chemicals produced.
So I invite you to explore John Warner’s story, which includes connections between music composition and chemistry (which is an incredible concept). I’ll be diving into this area for more resources and ideas, there is a lot of emerging information to be explored.
John Warner runs the Warner Babcock Institute, which will, I hope, shape everything in the future.
Science fiction may be getting closer to reality in the future of materials.
The WYSS Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard is an interdisciplinary “alliance” between the internally diverse schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences, as well as a broad array of Universities and Research Centres. Their focus is the development of new materials using the deep, micro scale principles of self assembling natural materials, and the vision of their research is pretty wild.
The deceptively simple mission statement of the WYSS Institute reveals incredible goals:
The Wyss Institute aims to discover the engineering principles that Nature uses to build living things, and harnesses these insights to create biologically inspired materials and devices that will revolutionize healthcare and create a more sustainable world… Understanding of how living systems build, recycle, and control is also guiding efforts focused on development of entirely new approaches for constructing buildings, converting energy, controlling manufacturing, and improving our environment.
The self assembled future
Scenarios of Sustainability within Design
True closed loops, natural cycles.
Is the answer edible technology? The edible cell phone?
We don’t have to eat it, but as long as some organism or bacteria finds our products edible, we could create a biodegradable future where all our waste can be easily breakdown and return to the earth.
It is easy to think of biodegrading as a negative. Who wants their cell phone slowly breaking down in their pocket? Flakes of screens being caught in the washing machine, buttons that slowly disintegrate through use.
But John Warner, godfather of green chemistry argues that in nature biodegrading is coded with signals. When specific conditions are met; chemical, temperature, time, reactions trigger internal chemical responses that alter the properties of the material.
Drop the cell phone in water mixed with vinegar and it begins to disassemble. Return in a day and in the bin is floating a case, screen and electronics board. Need to go further? You drop the electronics board into a warm bath of a different kind and it comes apart in another layer.