Biologically Inspired Design For An Interdisciplinary Education (Jeannette Yen)

This talk highlights the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and education.  Education is becoming increasingly specialized and organized by silos.  Biologically-inspired design (BID) can help bridge these silos.  The Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID) at Georgia Tech teaches BID to teams drawn from engineers, designers, mathematicians, computer specialists and at least one biologist. 

The 15 week program (two classes per week) covers content (evolution, case studies, technological innovation, search strategies) and process (observing nature, analogical reasoning, problem decomposition), along with assignments and a final project.  To facilitate communication across disciplines, the students use the Structure-Behavior-Function (SBF) model developed by Ashok Goel of the Design and Intelligence Lab (DILab).  SBF structures the discussion around What? (physical attributes observed), How? (actions or reactions) and Why? (rational, importance). 

Jeannette described three student projects

  • The Wind School: capture free energy without rotating blades, using an array ('school') of fluttering piezoelectric fabric (Schools of fish help squeeze more power from wind farms was announced by Cal Tech Prof. Dabiri just a day before their final presentation)
  • Chymera: parkour body armor based on the armadillo
  • Heliotrack: solar tracking system based on how plants track the sun

Jeannette listed five key learning skills:

  • novel techniques for creativity
  • interdisciplinary communication skills
  • knowledge about domains outside of core training
  • the interdisciplinary design process
  • application of knowledge across domains
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