Launch of ASU center prompts discussion of nature as source for sustainable ideas


March 6, 2015

“How will seeing nature as a model, measure and mentor change us?”

Janine Benyus posed this question to a large crowd gathered inside Old Main on the Tempe campus for the March 3 launch of The Biomimcy Center – a joint effort between Arizona State University and the consulting and training firm Biomimicry 3.8. Biomimicry displays on table Download Full Image

Benyus, a biomimicry pioneer, co-founded Biomimicry 3.8 with Dayna Baumeister, co-director of the new center and a professor of practice at ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

“The launch of the Biomimicry Center at ASU is a huge milestone for us,” said Benyus. “It’s always better to dream in partnership, and I really believe that ASU is a partner that we’ve been waiting for to do this work well.”

Biomimicry uses biologically-inspired design to address complex sustainability challenges, such as creating energy-efficient and environmentally-responsive materials for a variety of applications, or developing a renewable energy system inspired by photosynthesis.

The new ASU center will be the hub of research and education collaborations between university units and industry and government partners.

“We love big ideas and big challenges, so this is a perfect partnership for us,” said Prasad Boradkar, co-director of the Biomimicry Center and professor of industrial design at The Design School at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

The launch event kicked off with a research symposium featuring researchers from disciplines such as life sciences, architecture and urban design, psychology, earth and space exploration, engineering, chemistry, sustainability and English.

“In the Western world, we’ve come to separate principles of nature, biology and life, from those of design, innovation and technology,” said Baumeister during the opening session of the center launch symposium. “If both overlapped, we could look at nature as a model and a source for ideas that are successful.”

Symposium sessions included "Change the Story, Change the Outcome;" “Nudge Toward a New Paradigm;” “Swarmimicry: Engineering Certain Outcomes in an Uncertain World;” “Smart Matter;” and “Connections through Indigenous Stories.”

The symposium preceded a lecture by Benyus and a Q&A session between Benyus and ASU Provost Robert E. Page Jr. The festivities ended with performances incorporating biomimicry principles.

The Amyloid Project, choreographed by assistant professors Jessica Rajko from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and Sara Vaiana from ASU’s Department of Physics, sought to explore and expose the chaotic molecular choreography of intrinsically disordered proteins.

In another performance, “Forest,” Garth Paine, associate professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and School of Music, condensed the native sounds of the American Southwest into a five-minute composition. The piece blended notes from the flute with the recordings of birds and frogs. The electronically reprocessed sounds are an example of what Paine calls “an ongoing inquiry into the ways in which we converse with nature on a daily basis.”

Discussions during the day centered on a connecting philosophy: How can we find our way “home” to nature-inspired design, products and services, and learn from our “elders” – living organisms that have evolved and inhabited the planet much longer than humans?

“We live on a competent planet with competent elders,” said Benyus. “Compared to 3.8 billion years of evolution of living matter on this planet, human beings are a young species with a huge impact. Changing who and what we emulate is the fastest way you change the nature of this impact.”

The Biomimicry Center at ASU is supported by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Sustainability, W. P. Carey School of Business, School of Life Sciences and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, as well as the Office of Knowledge and Enterprise Development and the Provost’s Office.

Media projects manager, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

ASU students to be featured at CGI U opening ceremony, special events


March 6, 2015

This weekend, select students from Arizona State University will attend the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), a selective and high-profile conference that will focus on student-led solutions to our world’s most pressing issues. The conference will be held on March 6-8 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

Several of the ASU students selected to attend will also participate in select special events, bracket challenges and competitions: Download Full Image

• Three ASU students will compete for seed funding from the Social Resolution Project with students from around the world in the Social Venture Challenge.

• Nine ASU students will showcase their Commitments to Action at the CGI U Exchange exhibition.

• Two ASU students will participate in the CGI U Codeathon, a prototype design challenge.

• One team of ASU students will compete in the CGI U Bracket Challenge, a crowdfunding competition.

Kimberly Roland, a graduate student studying social justice and human rights in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, will be recognized by President Bill Clinton at the opening plenary session for the strides she has made since first submitting her Commitment to Action to CGI U last year.

Her project, “School Pantry: Rural AZ,” aims to reduce child hunger in rural parts of northern Arizona.

“Initially, the number of meals provided was around 34,000,” Roland said. “Since 2014, [my project] has served over 50,000 meals, and currently, it is piloting in Bullhead City. My plan is to continue expanding this program in northern Arizona, and my dream is to also pilot it somewhere on the Navajo Reservation.”

Roland will speak on stage during the opening plenary session, which will be led by President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.

Christopher Workman, a graduate student in biomedical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, will showcase his team-led Commitment to Action at the CGI U Exchange and also participate in the CGI U Codeathon. His team’s Commitment to Action, “Measure the Reef: Save the Coral,” aims to monitor the health of coral reefs, and will benefit from collaboration and assessment from other CGI U commitment-makers from other institutions.

“At the Codeathon, my team members and I will lead a team of about eight people in programming and designing additions to part of a competition against other featured Commitments to Action,” he said. “We are very excited and anxious to begin the Codeathon, as it will be a tremendous opportunity for learning from the other coders who will be on our team and for advancing our commitment.”

Ngoni Mugwisi, a MasterCard Foundation Scholar and sophomore in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is also looking forward to the opportunities of attending CGI U. His team-led Commitment to Action, “Stair Gardens,” is a tiered gardening initiative for struggling communities in Zimbabwe. Described by CGI U as “an exemplary way of tackling critical issues,” his team’s Commitment to Action will be featured at the CGI U Exchange exhibition and onstage during one this weekend’s sessions.

The annual CGI U conference is a highly anticipated event that convenes over 1,000 students from over 300 colleges and 80 countries. To attend, students must pass a competitive selection process by submitting compelling solutions, called Commitments to Action, to today’s problem in one of five focus areas: education; environment and climate change; peace and human rights; poverty alleviation; and public health. Students must also explain how their Commitments to Action are new, specific and measureable.

Hosted at ASU in 2014, CGI U provides selected undergraduate and graduate students with opportunities to engage with topic experts, renowned leaders and celebrities through interactive workshops and plenary sessions.

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657