Using nature’s strengths for everyone’s benefit

Engineers discover that the key to making the Japanese bullet train quieter is to mimic the kingfisher’s beak. An architect imitates the way termites cool their mounds in a building in Zimbwabe, resulting in a 90 percent reduction in air-conditioning.

Life has been performing design experiments on Earth for 3.8 billion years. Flourishing on the planet today are the best ideas — those that perform well in context while economizing on energy and materials.

This is the theory behind biomimicry, and Janine Benyus is one of its pre-eminent practitioners. Benyus will speak on the subject for the Assembly Series at 5:30 p.m. March 19 in Graham Chapel. Her talk, “Biomimicry: Building from Nature’s Blue-prints” is free and open to the public.

Benyus is the president of the Biomimicry Institute, based in Missoula, Mont., and is the author of six books, including “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.”

A growing number of businesses, architecture and engineering firms and government agencies are turning to the biomimicry model to create innovations that will solve complex problems in a sustainable way. The Biomimicry Institute’s client list includes a wide range of organizations, from Nike to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, from General Electric to Hewlett-Packard.

In addition to the institute, Benyus co-founded the Biomimicry Guild, which helps innovators learn from and emulate natural models.

Benyus earned bachelor’s degrees in natural resource management and English literature, both from Rutgers University. She has earned several awards, including the Rachel Carson Environmental Ethics Award, the Lud Browman Award for Science Writing and the Science Writing in Society Jour-nalism. In 2007, she was named a hero of the environment by Time magazine.

In conjunction with the lecture, a faculty-only workshop titled, “Biomimicry Across Disciplines” will be held at 11:30 a.m. March 20.

Benyus and Denise DeLuca, outreach director at the Biomimicry Institute, will lead the workshop, which is co-sponsored by the Material Resource Center at the College of Architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the design firm HOK. Lunch will follow.

In addition to architecture and the Assembly Series, events are being co-sponsored by the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering; Student Union; Engineers Without Borders; EnCouncil; Society of Women Engineers; Sigma Iota Rho Honorary Society; the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences; the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values in Arts & Sciences; the Office of Sustainability; Tyson Research Center; McCarthy Building Companies Inc.; and HOK.

Space for the workshop is limited and registration is required. For more information or to register, contact Daphne Ellis at 935-4436 or e-mail

For more information on the Assembly Series, call 935-4620 or visit