Dr. Peter Niewiarowski

Professor, Biology, University of Akron

PI/Director, Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center (BRIC), University of Akron

Leadership team member of Great Lakes Biomimicry, Cleveland OH

Introduction to Biomimicry

The concept of biomimicry (solving problems or creating new opportunities through understanding and applying biological models) is ancient – there is evidence of its practice from prehistoric artifacts and the work of da Vinci. Modern examples reveal a tremendous diversity in approach, perspective and goals of this emerging field as might be expected when applications have substantial roots in art, design, engineering, material science, biology and other disciplines. I briefly consider some of the approaches, lessons, opportunities, and challenges we have encountered for developing more formal training in biomimicry, especially in academic and academic-industry contexts.

Dr. Ali Dhinojwala 

H.A. Morton Professor, Polymer Science, University of Akron

Co-PI Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center (BRIC), University of Akron

Designing Adhesives Inspired by Geckos and Spiders

Insects, spiders, and geckos use brushes of micron or nanometer-size hairs for locomotion or catching preys. Synthetic hairs are also finding many applications in the areas of dry adhesives, self-cleaning surfaces, field emission displays, and high surface area coatings for solar cells.  I will discuss the properties of glues used by geckos and spiders and the inspiration it has provided in designing novel synthetic adhesives.

Dr. Joel Fried

Professor, Department Chair, Chemical Engineering, University of Louisville

Biomimetic Membranes and Channels

A number of synthetic ion transporters and channels have been developed by several different groups. One class of synthetic chloride channels uses a heptapeptide chain containing hydrocarbon tails attached on either end. This channel is biomimetic (conserved protein sequence) to the well-characterized CIC chloride channel, and has been shown both by experimental and by molecular simulations in our lab to selectively transport chloride anions across a lipid bilayer. Results of these simulations studies will be shown. Two different groups have studied biomimetic bilayers composed of amphiphilic triblock copolymers that have been shown experimentally to reconstitute a large number of naturally occurring protein channels within their bilayer structures. Current work in our group combining both simulation and experiment is focused on determining whether the synthetic channels are also able to reconstitute in the polymeric bilayers and, thereby, offering opportunities for novel applications in medicine and other fields.

Dr. Philip Brown

Postdoctoral Fellow, Nanoprobe Laboratory for Bio- & Nanotechnology and Biomimetics, The Ohio State University

Bioinspired surfaces: Layered coatings for self-cleaning, anti-fouling, anti-smudge, anti-fogging, anti-icing, and oil–water separation

Nature provides many examples of surfaces that repel (hydrophobic) or attract (hydrophilic) water. Most famous is the lotus leaf, the water repellent surface of which provides a mechanism for self-cleaning, water droplets roll over the surface of the leaf collecting contaminants as they go. The leaves of other plant species allow water to rapidly spread into a thin layer, increasing evaporation so the leaf is able to exchange gases for photosynthesis. Many natural surfaces contain hierarchical structuring on the micro- to nanoscale. This texture, combined with specific surface chemistry, results in the desired properties achieved over billions of years of evolution. By taking inspiration from nature, it is possible to create coatings that provide a whole range of surface properties. A layered technique has been developed that includes a combination of bioinspired roughness with varying surface chemistry, not found in nature, to result in coatings that can repel not just water but oils too. By varying the layers deposited, different coatings can be made to achieve any of the four combinations of water and oil repellency and affinity. This technique provides the basis to fabricate coatings for a range of applications including self-cleaning, anti-fouling, anti-smudge, anti-fogging, anti-icing, and oil–water separation. These coatings are also found to be mechanically durable and optically transparent.

Dr. Carson Meredith

Professor, School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Tech

Pollen: A Multifunctional Dynamic Adhesive System for Biomimicry

Nature provides remarkable examples of adhesive bioparticles that function in a wide range of environmental and dynamic conditions, including plant pollens.  These microparticle systems provide robust examples of nature’s solutions to adhesion in wide-ranging habitats (land, water, air) under static and dynamic conditions (changing humidity, insect flight) on surfaces with a variety of structures and chemistries.  Significant potential for advancement in biomimicry capabilities lies in learning to control the physical and chemical cues that drive adhesion in these nano-structured microparticles. These lessons would open a rich world of opportunities in designing tunable microparticles for adhesives, sensors, drug- and agro-chemical delivery, and directionally-anisotropic forces for particle self-assembly.

This talk will detail recent discoveries of the mechanisms of pollen adhesion, and fabrication of inorganic and magnetic mimics based on these design principles.  Two separate pollen adhesion mechanisms have been identified and quantified: a dry adhesion mechanism (determined by pollen surface geometry) and a wet liquid mechanism (determined by both geometry and presence of liquid pollenkitt coating).  These two mechanisms work together to give pollen the ability to ‘tune’ adhesion to different transport mechanisms (wind vs. insect pollenation) by adjusting microstructure and amount of coating.  Pollenkitt liquid also exhibits a sensitive dependence of wetting and viscosity on humidity.  In addition, the patterns inherent to pollen spines yield a pressure-sensitive adhesion that drives enhanced adhesion on plant stigma receptive hairs. We have utilized conformal coating surface sol-gel methods to generate inorganic pollen replicas composed of SiO2, a-Fe2O3 and Fe3O4.  Magnetic Fe3O4 replicas display an unusual ability to independently tune the short-range adhesion and long-range magnetic attraction, leading to new design possibilities for engineering advanced microparticles for catalyst supports, sensors, and composite materials.

Dr. Michael Dickey

Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, North Carolina State University

Ultra-soft Circuits with Biomimetic Features

Conventional electronics (e.g., computer chips) are two-dimensional, rigid, brittle, intolerant of moisture, and utilize electrons. In contrast, the sensors, circuits, memory elements, and actuators found in Nature are typically composed of soft materials that operate in aqueous environments while utilizing ions rather than electrons. Examples include eyes (sensors), nerve networks (circuits), and the brain (memory).  The properties of these natural components motivate efforts in our research group to control the shape and function of soft materials (liquid metals, polymers and hydrogels). The research harnesses interfacial phenomena, micro fabrication, patterning, and thin films. We demonstrate the formation of ultra-stretchable, soft, and shape-reconfigurable conductors composed of liquid metal alloys based on gallium.   The metal is a liquid at room-temperature with low-viscosity (water-like) and can be patterned due to a thin, oxide skin that forms rapidly on its surface.  We have also combined these materials with biocompatible hydrogels to make memory devices and actuators that are completely soft and ionic.

Dr. Ted Smith

Chief of Civic Innovation, Louisville Metro Government

Executive Director, Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil

Community Fellow for Energy and Environment, Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research

Where Engineering Meets Sustainability – Louisville and the Harmony Economy


Dr. Shashank Priya

Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Tech

Faculty Director, Materials and Sustainable Energy, Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, Virginia Tech

Jellyfish Node and Colonies

A biomimetic robot inspired by Cyanea capillata, termed as “Cyro”, was developed to meet the functional demands of underwater surveillance in defense and civilian applications. The swimming kinematics of the C. capillata were analyzed after extracting the required kinematics from the in situ video. A discrete model of the exumbrella was developed and used to analyze the kinematics. Cyro was designed to mimic the morphology and swimming mechanism of the natural counterpart. The full vehicle measures 170 cm in diameter and has a total mass of 76 kg. Cyro reached the water surface untethered and autonomously from a depth of 182 cm in five actuation cycles. It achieved an average velocity of 8.47 cm/s while consuming an average power of 70 W. Steady  state  velocity  during  Cyro’s  swimming  test  was  not  reached  but  the  measured performance during its last swim cycle resulted in a cost of transport of 10.9 J/kg·m and total efficiency of 3%. It was observed that a passive flexible margin or flap, drastically increases the performance  of  the  robotic  jellyfish  (Robojelly).  The  effects  of  flap  length  and  geometry on Robojelly were analyzed using PIV. The flap was defined as the bell section which is located between the flexion point and bell margin. The flexion point was established as the location where the  bell  undergoes  a  significant  change  in  compliance  and  therefore  in  slope.  The  flap  was analyzed in terms of its kinematics and hydrodynamic contribution. An outer trajectory is achieved by the flap margin during contraction while an inner trajectory is achieved during relaxation. The flap kinematics was found to be replicable using a passive flexible structure. Flaps of constant cross-section  and  varying  lengths  were  put  on  the  robotic  vehicle  to  conduct  a  systematic parametric study. Robojelly’s swimming performance was tested with and without a flap. This revealed a thrust increase 1340% with the addition of a flap. Velocity field measurements were performed using planar Time Resolved Digital Particle Image Velocimetry (TRDPIV) to analyze the change in vortex structures as a function of flap length. To prolong the life of bio-inspired autonomous  underwater  vehicles  (AUVs)  inspiration  is  taken  from  the  constant  feeding  and energy generation achieved by Rhizostomeae. From this study, still in progress, we hope to obtain a representation of how the additional parts meant for feeding affect things like drag force and streamlining. This will begin a large design of experiments to balance the negative effects the structures have on vehicle performance and the positive effect they have on feeding efficiency. Determining the probability of capture given a specific induced flow is a multistep process and determining the static bulk flow characteristics (i.e. separation, boundary layer, and velocity at the margin) is the first step. Future work would include generating a robotic swimming model to run further dynamic experiments to resolve the fluid physics of feeding.

Dr. Margaret Carreiro

Professor, Biology, University of Louisville

Director, Center for Environmental Science, University of Louisville

Waste Not, Want Not:  An Evolutionary Roadmap to the Industrial Symbiosis


Ms. Marisha Farnsworth

Creative Director and co-founder of Urban Biofilter, Oakland, CA

Designer at Hyphae Design Laboratory, Oakland, CA

Buildings that Weep and Sweat

As a framework for understanding the built environment, the dichotomy of the natural and the man-made must be rethought. Our buildings and urban centers are ecosystems, albeit sometimes dysfunctional ones. The ecosystems we encounter in the built environment are nascent, simplistic, and often lack the biodiversity that leads to long-term sustainability. What can our buildings and cities learn from ecosystems that have evolved over millennia? This talk will examine innovative ways to incorporate water into the built environment through several case studies designed by the ecological engineering firm, the Hyphae Design Laboratory, and sister nonprofit, Urban Biofilter. Projects discussed will include living systems for the SFMOMA addition, a public urinal and garden for the city of San Francisco, and green infrastructure strategies for the Port of Oakland.


Ms. Emily Kennedy

Biomimicry Fellow, PhD student, Integrated Bioscience, University of Akron

Biomimetic Product Innovation: GOJO Industries Case Study

Most biomimicry case studies pay minimal attention to process, focusing almost entirely on outcomes. This talk will shift focus to process, and describe an approach to biomimetic product innovation that is proving successful at GOJO Industries. This process is being continually refined, but has already led to a number of sustainable design concepts including energy-efficient soap and sanitizer dispensers and naturally-derived topical treatments.

Mr. Bor-Kai (Bill) Hsiung 

Biomimicry Fellow, PhD candidate, Integrated Bioscience, University of Akron

Ms. Daphne Fecheyr-Lippens

Biomimicry Fellow, PhD candidate, Integrated Bioscience, University of Akron


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