Bringing Bioinspiration to Education

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We make science fun for students!

You may have heard about the emerging field of biomimicry, or “bioinspiration,” and the role it plays in our daily lives. From the kingfisher inspiring a more energy efficient and noise conscious bullet train (see post Kingfishers and Bullet Trains) to the termite mound serving as a model for more sustainable building practices (see post Bio-Mimi-What?!), nature-inspired design has become the answer to many design challenges around the world. Biomimicry may prove that innovation inspired by nature is a serious economic game changer across industries and can serve as a discipline that can greatly conserve and protect the world’s natural resources by eliminating waste. Perhaps most importantly of all, however, biomimicry seems to make science more exciting and accessible to younger generations who hold a very fragile global future in their hands.

As a local educator and San Diego Zoo tour guide, I greatly appreciate the efforts of the San Diego Zoo’s Education Department to bring bioinspiration into the mainstream. I was one of those kids who found hard sciences difficult to grasp, turning instead to subjects such as history, politics, and literature to explore topics more related to my daily life. Once I discovered biomimicry, however, I realized science could truly be exciting and make a tangible difference right before my eyes. Not only have Zoo educators learned to make this connection, they also understand that kids are naturally creative and have a unique opportunity to think outside the box as the world rapidly evolves around them; they truly have no limits as to what they think is possible. And because biomimicry requires a collaboration of all disciplines, it becomes an exciting way to think about science (engineering, physics, chemistry, etc.) for those who may not have historically chosen to pursue a career in these fields. Thus, the Zoo has gone to the heart of the underappreciated discipline of science and used the power of biomimicry to bring science to life.

The San Diego Zoo sees biomimicry as a natural extension of the existing school outreach programs. Currently, the Zoo’s Education Department offers a two-hour experience for 4th-through 12th-grade classes focused on bioinspiration, including behind-the-scenes encounters with animals and a private bus tour with a Zoo educator. In addition, a three-hour introductory biomimicry workshop is being offered to high school, college, and other professional educators interested in expanding their knowledge of the field. These workshops can also be tailored to companies interested in creating more sustainable and efficient closed-loop processes and products. This fall, the Education Department plans to implement classroom outreach programs focused on bioinspiration and assist in a science fair competition to be held at the San Diego Zoo’s Beckman Center for Conservation Research. Animals benefit, the environment benefits, and the San Diego Zoo once again fulfills its mission of promoting conservation, saving species, and protecting wildlife.

Chris Arbeene is tour operator/guide and conservation finance intern at the San Diego Zoo.