Christian Long

Janine Benyus: Nature’s Designs

In TED Talks on April 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Reflection by JENNA K.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Janine Benyus: Nature’s Designs

As humans, we go about thinking we’re are so superior to all other organisms, but what we don’t realize is that nature has already solved all our problems.  All we have to do is allow ourselves to learn from them.

Biomimicry is the practice of studying nature and then replicating its designs and processes to solve the problems of humanity. By applying what we learn from other organisms, we utilize the genius of the natural world. There are many people out there who have already started practicing the discipline of biomimicry, but so many more could start learning from what has already been discovered by nature. As Benyus described in the beginning of her discussion, it was only a matter of realization among engineers to begin their infatuation with learning from the natural world. It seems we all take advantage of the workings of living organisms, in that, we don’t appreciate all the processes other species have to perform to survive. If more people could pay attention to the unique processes within organisms, we could increase the amount of knowledge we learn from the natural world.

Benyus briefly talked about twelve design ideas we could learn from nature: self assembly, carbon dioxide as a feedstock, solar transformations, utilizing shape, acquiring water, producing metals without mining, timed degradation, healing, sensing and responding to environments, and growing fertility to create more opportunities for life. While all of these designs seem interesting, only some really caught my eye. Solar transformations and timed degradation were things that I had already taken an interest in – when my iPod is about to die and I wish I could charge it just by putting it in sunlight for awhile – or when I just finished eating some chips and there’s no trashcan to put the bag. Studying sensing and responding seemed important to me, considering that there are thousands of traffic fatalities a year. The power of shape is something we are all familiar with, as our means of transportation become more aerodynamic and efficient. But, if we encounter problems like these everyday, why aren’t more people willing to learn from nature?

I myself have not really taken notice to the things we can learn from nature, but after listening to Benyus talk, I was inspired to do some research on some of the things she mentioned.

We are all familiar with the process of photosynthesis in plants: using light as a food source. But unfortunately, it is a little difficult for us to replicate plants’ photochemical approach. Another approach of energy production is electricity generation, which is the process of creating electric currents from other forms of energy. Mechanical energy is energy that is gained when work is being done. Often, we use water to create electricity by using the kinetic energy given of by the liquid flow. This method was learned by observing the heat and energy characteristics of large water masses such as oceans. Large volumes of water exist at different temperatures as a result of currents and the absorption of solar energy. These various temperatures create a cycle that removes the energy from the more heated water to the low temperature water. This cycle is a form of mechanical energy and is used to generate electricity.

Watch this video: Sun Chips has recently designed a 100% decomposable bag. But microorganisms have always had the ability to degrade or transform a huge range of compounds.

As Benyus mentioned, airplane designs have been improved by studying the texture of humpback whales. But what other shape designs have we learned from nature?

There are so many things that we have already taken from nature that many of us aren’t even aware of. There are so many more things that we could take from nature if we just explore and question what happens around us. Next time you see something extraordinary in nature, or even just a little unique, observe what is going on and see if you can find something similar in the human world – or even something new that could be applied to our world. I’m sure you will find something interesting.

All information is either from the TED talk itself or from this website:


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