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Built Environment

Why biomimicry will shape the future of design

February 9, 2015

Biomimicry, in case you haven't heard, is the practice of using geometry found in nature in human-made designs. The design practice is gaining popularity for its efficiency, not to mention its visual elegance.

Jay Harman, president and CEO of Pax Scientific took the the VERGE 2014 main stage to talk about what biomimicry does, and how it's influencing industrial design everywhere. It's not just influencing physic design, but chemistry as well.

Hippopotamus sweat is a natural sunblock, Harman said. Furthermore, it's waterproof, antiseptic, antifungal, antiparasitic, self-spreading and non-toxic. Researchers at the University of California-Merced are looking at ways to use the chemical in commercial sunblocks, which are often either ineffective or toxic.

"This is going to completely change our world of sunblock," Harman said. "And this is just one molecule that is going to transform the world of pharmacology and chemistry."

There's a lot more to biomimicry than hippo sweat. Harman also talked about materials and designs based on lotus leaves, shark skin and whirlpools. Not one of the structures mentioned uses straight lines.

"Nature never uses a straight line; humans try not to use anything else," Harman said. "Nature always delivers a far better product with far less energy."

He also said that biomimicry is taking off in a big way. "Even though it was first coined by Janine Benyus about 15 years ago, it's hit the vernacular in the last year or two," he said. "People all over the world are waking up to this."

Before he left the stage, Harman spoke directly to the young designers and engineers who might be listening: "I am really excited for all the younger people here with this to look forward to, and the world you're about to rebuild."