In the world envisioned by science author Janine Benyus, a locust’s ability to avoid collision within a roiling cloud of its brethren informs the design of a crash-resistant car; a self-cleaning leaf inspires a new kind of paint, one that dries in a pattern that enables simple rainwater to wash away dirt; and organisms capable of living without water open the way for vaccines that maintain potency even without refrigeration – a hurdle that can prevent life-saving drugs from reaching disease-torn communities. Most important, these cool tools from nature pull off their tricks while still managing to preserve the environment that sustains them, a life-or-death lesson that humankind is in need of learning.
As a champion of biomimicry, Benyus has become one of the most important voices in a new wave of designers and engineers inspired by nature. Her most recent project, AskNature, explores what happens if we think of nature by function and looks at what organisms can teach us about design. The website features a search engine that allows users to type in a problem and it yields a solution in the form of a natural phenomena. Nature has been perfecting its model through evolution for 3.8 billion years, shouldn’t we be looking there first for answers to our problems?