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
- How can we help engineering students to appreciate
the value of evolutionary adaptation as a source
for design inspiration, where they ‘biologize’ a
- 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.