In 1997, biologist and innovation consultant Janine Benyus, released her first book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In this publication she coined the term ‘biomimicry’ and laid the groundwork for an emerging discipline that looks for innovative solutions to pressing global problems by emulating nature’s designs and processes. Since her book’s release more than 15 years ago, Benyus has evolved the practice of biomimicry research through numerous initiatives, including Biomimicry 3.8 — an amazing organization providing business consulting, professional training, and education on what humans can learn from the genius of nature that surrounds us. Though biomimetics is technically not a new idea, the relevance of this field has become increasingly apparent over the past few years as we’ve come to realize that Mother Nature is one of the universe’s most successful and time-tested designers, and we have much to learn from her. Watch our video above to hear from biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus as she chats with us about some of the incredible innovations that have come from Biomimicry, such as velcro, solar power, and more-efficient wind turbines.
Inhabitat: Thank you so much for talking to us, Janine. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea of biomimicry? I know that maybe you’re sort of synonymous with this idea. You coined the term “biomimicry”, right?
Janine: The idea ofbiomimicry occurred to me as somebody who was trying to consciously emulate the way nature lives so gracefully on the planet. Is asked myself: Is there a field? Is there a discipline that does this? This was back in 1990 when I started to document ideas—and at that point I kept them in small little journals. The first idea was mimicking leaves in order to come up with better solar cells. However, at that point there really wasn’t a field in which that people could go into this. Biologists and designers were not consciously working together at the design table to create new products or processes; now they are.
Inhabitat: So what does Biomimicry 3.8 mean?
Janine: 3.8 stands for 3.8 billion years. That’s how long life has been on earth, and for us it’s bringing 3.8 billion years of experience to redesigning our world.
Inhabitat: What do you think are some of the most pressing problems that can be solved by biomimicry right now?
Janine: I think obviously climate change is an enormous and multi-forked problem. But whether you’re looking at new energy sources, ways to conserve energy, ways to conserve resources, or ways to reduce the toxins that we have, these issues can certainly be solved by biomimicry.
A great example comes from a group called Flow atCal Tech. They are a group of students who studied how fish move in schools and found that the fish in the front of the school actually throw off little vortexes in the water as they move, as their sinuous movements. The ones behind them actually curve their body around those vortexes and get flung upstream. They’re drafting and they get an energy push. So what they said is what if we can redo wind farms? Right now we have these gigantic wind farms and we try and keep the horizontal axis wind turbines as far away from each other as possible, because we see that turbulence not as a good thing but as a negative thing. They said maybe it is a good thing. So they took vertical axis wind turbines and put them as close as possible together—they put them basically in a school. What resulted is that in a very small space, they found that they were getting ten times more wind power. As the first windmills turned they would begin to move the air, which would start the other windmills turning even before the wind came to them.
Inhabitat: That’s incredible.
Janine: Yeah. That kind of thinking of how a school of fish could inspire a new kind of wind farm that you could possibly use at the top of buildings in the city for instance, that’s the kind of breakthrough thinking that we’re getting from biomimicry.
+ Biomimicry 3.8
+ Biomimicry coverage on Inhabitat
+ The Biomimicry Manual
+ CalTech Uses Biomimicry To Design Better Wind Turbines
I am always inspired by Janine's brilliance! Such a visionary. Thanks so much for giving us this insight into her thinking, Jill. Much enjoyed.
Thanks for this interview; it's really wonderful to see that biomimicry is getting more press. I'm particularly fascinated by the section on windmills, but as we've seen by Tamsin's work, this is just the beginning of what we can learn from 3.8 billion years of nature's accumulated wisdom.
Great interview. There's no better inventor than Mother Nature, so it makes perfect sense to imitate her brilliance!
Janine is a fascinating woman - she's basically the mother of biomimicry! Thank you for sharing this enlightening interview. I hope it compels more people to get into the study of biomimicry.