Researchers at UGA and James Madison University want students to draw inspiration from nature as they look for solutions to complex engineering challenges. The two universities have received assistance from the National Science Foundation to develop instructional resources centered on the concept of biologically inspired design, known as biomimicry, in engineering curricula.
The two-year collaboration will be led by Ramana Pidaparti, a professor and associate dean for academic programs in the UGA College of Engineering, and Jacquelyn Nagel, an assistant professor of engineering at JMU.
Nature has developed clever solutions for incredibly complex problems, Pidaparti said. As examples, a leaf is able to convert sunlight and water into usable energy while a shark’s skin possesses a unique texture that doesn’t allow bacteria and other organisms to gain a foothold. With humanity facing increasingly complicated questions, scientists are turning to the natural world for answers through the study of biomimicry.
“The focus of our project is to provide students with experiences that combine biological concepts with engineering solutions,” Pidaparti said. “We need to look to biological systems that have evolved over billions of years to find answers to engineering challenges of the future.”
Pidaparti believes these bio-inspired design theories can be integrated across the engineering curriculum. The central idea is to show students how nature solves a particular problem and then ask them to mimic or adapt the solution to a design challenge.
“As our challenges become more complex, the solutions are becoming more complex. We often take for granted how complex the natural, biological world is and how it has evolved and adapted,” he said.
Pidaparti and Nagel also believe a bio-inspired design curriculum will help engineering students become better communicators and collaborators. Bio-inspired design concepts are being integrated into classes this semester at UGA and eventually will become an important component of design courses at the freshman, sophomore and senior levels.