from Jeannette Yen, CBID Director


As the world becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, it has become clear that we do not fully understand how to foster, sustain, and propagate these interdisciplinary connections in the university and its undergraduate curricula. Such interdisciplinary education is necessary to solve the increasingly complex problems faced by the next generation of scientists and engineers, who in particular, will be faced with the challenge of integrating biology and engineering. The Center for Biologically Inspired Design of the Georgia Institute of Technology (CBID) is guided by these overarching questions about the connections between engineering and science education:

  • How can we best foster communication and collaboration between biologists and engineers towards innovative design?
  • How can we help engineering students to appreciate the value of evolutionary adaptation as a source for design inspiration, where they ‘biologize’ a design problem?
  • How can we help biology students better understand how their knowledge of biology can be useful in engineering design?

We propose a truly interdisciplinary education and training plan that will break down existing boundaries between biology and engineering. Current interdisciplinary fusions of biology and engineering expertise stress the use of sophisticated engineering approaches to intervene in, or interface with, biological systems. This demands considerable biological and engineering skills and has been quite productive in the development of biologically compatible materials, neural interfaces and diagnostic technology. However, it tends to treat the biological environment largely as a series of constraints within which a particular engineered system must operate. Our approach is to promote the use of biological principles as potential solutions for the design of human built systems and processes. Our emphasis differs from current interdisciplinary programs by training students to be able to mine biological systems as sources of innovation.

The participants of Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically-Inspired Design believe that science and technology are increasingly hitting the limits of approaches based on traditional disciplines, and that Biology is an important guide to developing new ways of thinking. In addition, it is becoming clear that human civilization’s activities are increasingly overreaching the carrying capacity of the earth’s natural systems, and that new materials and technologies are necessary. Biological systems at all levels use lifefriendly materials manufactured at room temperatures, often operate under energetic limitations, and have movement and sensing capabilities that generally exceed that of human built systems. In addition to the large-scale sustainability model presented by natural ecosystems, the process of evolutionary adaptation represents millions of years of design concept testing. These adaptations may be more efficient than modern engineering solutions while utilizing environmentally-friendly materials. They are thus often excellent guides for novel technologies and ways to reduce energy consumption and reliance on scarce or toxic materials. We seek to create a generation of engineers able be at the frontline of designs that are innovative, efficient, and life-friendly.

Jeannette Yen

email | v. 404-385-1596

biomimicry defined

Design for Life : The Architecture of
Sim Van der Ryn

Design for Life

Sim Van der Ryn, president of Van der Ryn Architects, is a renowned leader in sustainable architecture. For over thirty-five years, his design, planning, teaching and public leadership has advanced the viability, acceptance and knowledge base of ecological principles and practices in architecture and planning.

human plus nature

How does nature teach?
How does nature learn?
How does nature heal?
How does nature communicate?
Quieting human cleverness is
the first step in biomimicry. Next comes listening, then trying to echo what we hear. This emulating is hard and humbling work. When what we learn improves how we live,
we grow grateful,and that leads to the last step in the path:
stewardship and caretaking, a practical thanksgiving for what we've learned.

Janine Benyus

ga tech logo

CBID is an interdisciplinary center for research and development of design solutions that occur in biological processes. Founded in 2005, It is one of more than 100 interdisciplinary research units funded at Georgia Institute of Technology