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


rapture reef fish


Integrative Education and Research Training: CBID at Georgia Tech

*For Immediate Release*

Course Offering

BiolME/MSE/BMED4740+Arch4833+ID4843O and BIOL 8803 + Arch 8833SK

cbid course flyer

*Recent Events and News*

**2013 Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems, Seminar Series: Dr. Li Shu, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at University of Toronto,
Monday, February 18 at 10 am TSRB Auditorium

Biological Analogies and Environmental Lead-user Insights as Sources of Ideas for Conceptual Design


Abstract: I will describe two approaches my laboratory is taking to provide sources of ideas during conceptual design. 1) Biological analogies are often credited for inspiring innovative design concepts, but not often reported is how the source of biological inspiration was found. Such analogies could be identified by consulting biologists and databases that catalogue biological knowledge to support design. Instead, my laboratory has developed tools and methods that search through information in natural-language format, e.g., books, papers, etc., to find and apply biological analogies relevant to any given problem. I will describe the benefits and challenges specific to this approach. 2) An expanded definition of lead users is used to gain insights on developing products that support environmentally conscious behaviors. While products have become more resource efficient, product use has also increased, offsetting gains enabled by technical efficiency. By studying lead users in resource conservation, including the Mennonites, we were able to identify principles that may enable more people to engage in pro-environmental behaviors. We are examining how these principles may be incorporated into products that encourage green behavior.

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**MEDIA COVERAGE - for immediate release**
CBID and Bioinspired Design aired January 26, 2010, on Channel One"

Broadcasting since 1990, Peabody Award-winning Channel One News is the leading source of news and information for young people. The 12-minute news broadcasts are delivered daily to more than 6 million teens in middle schools and high schools across the country

  • Georgia Tech's Center for Biologically Inspired Design brings together a group of interdisciplinary biologists, engineers and physical scientists who seek to facilitate research and education for innovative products and techniques based on biologically-inspired design solutions. The participants of CBID believe that science and technology are increasingly hitting the limits of approaches based on traditional disciplines, and Biology may serve as an untapped resource for design methodology, with concept-testing having occurred over millions of years of evolution. Experiencing the benefits of Nature as a source of innovative and inspiring principles encourages us to preserve and protect the natural world rather than simply to harvest its products.

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    CBID gratefully acknowledges the support of the National Science Foundation grant No. 1022778 from their Division of Undergraduate Education. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

CBID Member News, Recent Publications and Introducing DANE 2.0

DANE home

Dr. Ashok Goel

School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech

Introducing DANE 2.0, the Design by Analogy to Nature Engine

DANE 2.0 was developed at the Design Intelligence Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. One of the primary research threads at the Design Intelligence Lab is analogical design. DANE, or the Design by Analogy to Nature Engine, was conceived of as a tool to facilitate particular kinds of analogical design activity, as well as to facilitate research into the cognitive underpinnings of analogical design.   DANE |   User's Guide

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Dr. Daniel Goldman

Assistant Professor,
School of Physics at Georgia Tech

Mechanical Models of Sandfish Locomotion

Abstract: Mechanical models of sandfish locomotion reveal principles of high performance subsurface sand-swimming. We integrate biological experiment, empirical theory, numerical simulation and a physical model to reveal principles of undulatory locomotion in granular media. High-speed X-ray imaging of the sandfish lizard, Scincus scincus, in 3 mm glass particles shows that it swims within the medium without using its limbs by propagating a single-period travelling sinusoidal wave down its body.   Journal of the Royal Society Interface

2011 CBID Seminar Series, sponsored by Perkins+Will

vincent triz

Dr. Julian Vincent

Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering

University of Bath, England

March 17, 2011, 3:00 pm
IBB Suddath Seminar room

New biomaterials inspired by mature's process of problem solving

Abstract: Biomimetics is the abstraction from, and application of, good design from biological systems. I shall briefly describe 3 examples from my own work and that of colleagues (woodpecker hammer, wasp ovipositor drill, wood analogue), and discuss some of the fairy tales. I shall then develop ways to compare biology and technology at a more abstract level, and show how one can derive basic design rules that can be applied to objects and processes which have no obvious biological connection. The underlying arguments are derived from the Russian problem solving system TRIZ (also known as TIPS).   Interview with Susana Soares

News Update

goldman sandfish goldman lab

Dr. Daniel Goldman

Assistant Professor,
School of Physics at Georgia Tech

Undulatory Swimming in Sand: Subsurface Locomotion of the Sandfish Lizard

The desert-dwelling sandfish (Scincus scincus) moves within dry sand, a material that displays solid and fluidlike behavior. High-speed x-ray imaging shows that below the surface, the lizard no longer uses limbs for propulsion but generates thrust to overcome drag by propagating an undulatory traveling wave down the body. Although viscous hydrodynamics can predict swimming speed in fluids such as water, an equivalent theory for granular drag is not available. To predict sandfish swimming speed, we developed an empirical model by measuring granular drag force on a small cylinder oriented at different angles relative to the displacement direction and summing these forces over the animal movement profile. The agreement between model and experiment implies that the noninertial swimming occurs in a frictional fluid. (Kinematics of the undulatory sandfish motion. (A) Traveling wave moving down the body of the sandfish opposite to the direction of the sandfish forward motion (sampled every 0.04 s). For each time instant, the instantaneous lateral displacement of a tracked section of the sandfish is represented in color. The black curves represent the tracked midline (for example, Figure 1E, snout tip to tail tip) of the sandfish. Image: Ryan D. Maladen, Yang Ding, Chen Li,Daniel I. Goldman)

david hu slithering

Dr. David Hu

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech

Limbless Locomotion

Terrestrial snakes propel themselves by using a variety of techniques, including slithering by lateral undulation of the body, rectilinear progression by unilateral contraction/extension of their belly, concertina-like motion by folding the body as the pleats of an accordion, and sidewinding motion by throwing the body into a series of helices.

mohan jewel

Dr. Mohan Srinivasarao

Professor, School of Polymer, Textile and Fiber Engineering at Georgia Tech

Optical & Chemical Secrets of Jeweled Beetles

"Iridescent beetles, butterflies, certain sea organisms and many birds derive their unique colors from the interaction of light with physical structures on their external surfaces. Understanding how these structures give rise to the stunning colors we see in nature could benefit the quest for miniature optical devices and photonics.” (image: Zina Deretsky, NSF)




SENSORS AND SENSING. Organisms sense physical stimuli (e.g, fluid motion, sound pressure, etc) with structures or processing schemes that often are quite different from that employed in human-built systems, particularly because humans are so visually oriented. However, an organism's ability to gather information efficiently is often key to their survival, and organisms must perform these tasks under conditions of limited processing power or materials. Studying animal sensation therefore can yield novel sensors, or develop sensors that efficiently gather particular information for a certain task in a specific environment. The limits on neural processing machinery and sensory structures make animal strategies particularly useful for autonomous systems. Animals must also frequently communicate without exposing themselves to predators or other dangers, and provide insights in how to design private communication channels.

Biological Materials

BIOLOGICAL MATERIALS often differ from human materials in both their properties and their constituents. Biomaterials are assembled from the smallest scales out of common materials, and are organized hierarchically with non-uniform properties (anisotropic). In contrast, we manufacture relatively homogenous materials by manipulations at large scales, and with reliance on relatively scarce (often toxic) substances such as metals. Examining biomaterials provides insights into how to design materials that are differentially sensitive to forces along certain directions, which can reduce weight and material usage in structures. They also provide clues to materials that can channel light, sound or heat differentially along certain directions, yielding natural fiber optics, better insulating materials or acoustically absorptive materials. Understanding the principles that result in ground up manufacturing can help to develop these new materials based on common, non-toxic building blocks.


BIOMECHANICS AND LOCOMOTION. Animal locomotion results from nonlinear biological systems that must interact effectively with complex physical environments. Animals produce movement with muscular structures that differ substantially from human technology (e.g. animals have no wheels), and must move with minimal energy usage, often over large distances and in variable environments. Organisms also employ passive regulation (i.e. movements are coordinated and regulated as a result of inherent properties of materials or system connections), which further reduces the need for complex central coordination. As a result of these properties, studying animal locomotion can help to develop more energy efficient vehicles by adopting useful shapes, movement kinematics or structures, or by reducing the need for complex mechanical control systems that add weight and consume energy. Because biological structures are tough rather than strong, biological systems are excellent guides for using flexible and deformable structures instead of rigid and non-compliant ones, and provide blueprints for systems that can bend, twist or resist forces adaptively in response to changing conditions. These strategies may minimize materials and energy while preserving or improving function.


BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS span multiple scales and have many elements connected in complex ways. Examples include networks of self-regulating circulatory vessels, social insect colonies, or ecological communities. These systems often exhibit surprising complexity and perform well under a large range of conditions, even though individual interactions may be based on simple rules (e.g. foraging in bee colonies). In addition, the organization of connections appears to allow some biological systems (e.g. ecosystems) to resist disruptions caused when individual elements (e.g. a species) are removed or added to the system. Since most biological systems function to exchange information, materials (or both), studying the properties of these systems may provide strategies for more efficient and sustainable transportation or energy distribution systems, produce principles that lead to more secure and robust information networks, or provide for adaptive behavior of groups (movement rules, task allocation) with a minimal number of simple rules and little organizational hierarchy. Such principles may contribute to better human systems ranging from transportation networks, city structures, or organizational/social networks.

Cognitive Models

COGNITIVE MODELS AND COMPUTATIONAL TOOLS. Biologically-inspired design depends on building deep and accurate analogies between human and biological systems, since design principles useful to a human problem must be derived from analyzing a similar problem faced in the biological world. As mentioned previously, we do not yet fully understand how even experts in engineering or biology go about mining evolutionary adaptation as a source for design inspiration. Cognitive studies are required to understand the cognitive and social processes underlying biologically inspired design. The results of these cognitive studies are computational models and tools that support the transfer of biological knowledge to engineering domains, and vice-versa, and educational strategies that teach engineers and biologists how to operate in this interdisciplinary framework.

Movers and Shakers


Janine Benyus: "The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone"
Consider the TEDTalks in Biomimicry with: Scientist, Robert Full; Biologist, Sheila Patek; Journalist, Janine Benyus; and Oceanographer, David Gallo. TedTalk videos

National Geographic: Biomimetics: Design by Nature What has fins like a whale, skin like a lizard, and eyes like a moth? The future of engineering. read article

Ray Anderson: "...creating the technologies of the future-kinder, gentler technologies that emulate nature's systems. I believe that's where we will find the right model. Ultimately, I believe we must learn to depend solely on available income the way a forest does, not on our precious stores of natural capital. Linear practices must be replaced by cyclical ones. That's nature's way. In nature, there is no waste; one organism's waste is another's food." watch video

Up to the Moment

biowave eden

News, Events, and the 2008-2009 CBID Seminar Series

Biomimicry: Are Humans Smarter Than Sea Sponges?
BioPower Systems' wave power device (Biowave) mimics the swaying motion of the sea plants found in the ocean floor. The system consists of three floating blades which are constantly oscillated by the motion of the sea, generating electricity as they do so. The flexibility of the blades enables them to deal with heavy seas without breaking, unlike more rigid designs.
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The Eden Project
Overall we believe the world we live in is facing radical change - and our aim is to help find positive futures in the face of that change. To get in shape for the challenges of the future we need a culture that knows how to sustain the things that sustain us and at the same time nutures creativity, imagination and adaptability.
how it works

2006-2007 Seminar Series

2006-2008 Seminar Series

2006 Symposium at Georgia Tech

biomimicry defined

Confessions of a Radical Industrialist

by Ray C. Anderson
with Robin White

Confessions of a Radical Industrialist

“We are in desperate need of hope in this world, but if hope is to be credible and trustworthy, it has to walk a straight line to reality.  No one does this better than Ray Anderson.” - Paul Hawken

human plus nature

...much of the human search for a coherent and fullfilling existence is intimately connected to our relationship with nature.

Stephan R. Kellert
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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