PhD Training in Biomimicry (Peter Niewiarowski, Doug Paige)

© ktsdesign - Fotolia.comThe University of Akron (UA), Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), and The Biomimicry Institute (TBI) are launching the first and only PhD training in biomimicry available in the world.  Our vision is to bring together designers, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and artists to be trained in the emerging discipline of biomimicry.  By integrating across disciplines and engaging business, academic and public sector partners throughout the training, we will create innovation leaders that not only understand the technical details of biomimicry but who also have the experience and skills to bring about real change in how products and services are designed and manufactured across all sectors of the economy.

Biomimicry Fellows in Integrated Bioscience 

UA, CIA and TBI have unique intellectual resources in bio-related and advanced materials research and engineering, which, when informed by principles of sustainability and bioinspiration will create a new kind of PhD not found anyplace else.  In the Fall of 2012 we will launch support for our first cohort of students by creating Biomimicry Fellowships.  Biomimicry Fellows are full-time PhD students who use sponsor-driven research innovation challenges as a core/element of their PhD research.  The return on investment for the sponsor comes in three forms:

  1. Immediate and continuous integration of biomimicry innovation process, skills and culture into the R&D infrastructure of the sponsor’s organization.
  2.  Professional development of an advanced biomimicry professional ready to assume a leadership role in innovation R&D.
  3. Application of ‘innovation inspired by nature’ to specific design challenges of interest to the sponsor.

The Training Platform: Integrated Bioscience PhD

Biomimicry Fellows will be trained in mixed cohorts representing the core disciplines of Biology, Design, Engineering and Business, within the Integrated Bioscience (IB) PhD program at the University of Akron.  A key feature of this program is that it is interdisciplinary, drawing on the strengths of a research infrastructure spanning the Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Polymer Science and Engineering and Business.  Currently, there are 35 PhD students enrolled and nearly 70 participating faculty in IB, working on projects ranging from modeling the biotic effects of global climate change to studying how what makes geckos sticky could be applied to synthetic adhesives.

Our Biomimicry Fellows (Fall 2012) will have the opportunity to draw from at least dozen different labs engaged in biomimetic research across the campus, and we expect that foundation of biomimetic relevant research activity to expand over the next five years.  Because we are partnered with the CIA and TBI, biomimicry training and research will be informed by best practices of and with thought leaders in design (CIA) and biomimetic principles and education (TBI).  The Biomimicry Fellows will be engaged in the work of a research and design intensive degree: course work focuses on core fundamentals to train students and give them experience in the how and why of interdisciplinary collaboration.  Most of the time students will be engaged in research/studio intensive activities rather than course work; independent motivation and thinking and decision making are essential.  Throughout the five-year program, Biomimicry Fellows will learn how to work across disciplinary boundaries to seek out the best solutions found in nature and apply them to challenging problems.  Moreover, because of the design and business components of the training, their work will extend well beyond basic research, tackling critical elements of marketing, design, development, and prototyping/production. 

Biomimicry Fellow Training Program Characteristics and Timeline

Year 1:

  • Core coursework completed, preliminary research plan developed, pilot project research commences.
  • Interdisciplinary PhD advisory committee is assembled for each Fellow reflecting relevant expertise in biology, design, engineering, and business (5 members) and other disciplines as desired.

Year 2:

  • Electives selected and completed.
  • Preparation for and completion of comprehensive exam (qualifier).
  • PhD research proposal developed and defended, pilot research.

Year 3-5: Full time research.

The purpose of the student’s individually selected PhD committee is to help:

  • Design course curriculum relevant to the student’s research goals.
  • Create a unique qualifying exam that guides the student’s preparation and readiness to begin development of a plan for PhD research.
  • Mentor the student through all phases of the PhD and for individual members to serve as potential collaborators and advisors in the PhD research phase.


The motivation and guiding principles for the design of our biomimicry PhD training flow from two fundamental premises:

  1. The PhD is a research degree reflecting a recipient’s expertise in the practice of a discipline.
  2. PhDs must emerge from their training with a sustainable capacity and desire for creating new knowledge that advances the discipline of biomimicry.

Consequently, PhD training in biomimicry must involve persistent inquiry at the edges of current conduct in the discipline and improved understanding about the intersection of the contributing domains of knowledge, particularly biology and design, but also engineering, aesthetics, information, planning, organizational behavior, and other schools of thought.  The difference between 1) and 2) above is the difference between knowing how to apply a method or practice (e.g., life’s principles) to evaluate key design principles of a design challenge, versus open inquiry about how well the existing practices, pedagogy and knowledge perform in the goals of the discipline.  Therefore biomimicry training in our program is meant to advance students in the skills and conduct of biomimicry, as well as advance the emerging academic field of biomimicry.


Image Credits:


Peter H. Niewiarowski is the Interim Director of Integrated Bioscience at the University of Akron.   He is an evolutionary ecologist and works mainly with lizards (currently geckos, previously fence lizards) and salamanders.  His research includes both laboratory and field projects.



Doug Paige is an award-winning industrial design professional.  He is an Associate Professor of Industrial Design at The Cleveland Institute of Art.  and has an impressive working background in the Industrial Design field including ID Focus, Ron Loosen Associates, Thomson Consumer Electronics and his own company Douglas J. Paige Design.


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