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What Would Nature Do?

The Next Generation of Students Uses Biomimicry to Tackle
Real-life Problems


“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.”

— Steve Jobs

Applying Strategies from Nature

At a time when there is great need for sustainable solutions to solve pressing global challenges, biomimicry is an approach to innovation that emulates nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. Animals, plants, and microbes, after all, are all engineers aided by billions of years of research and development in the form of evolution and natural selection. As humans work to reduce our footprint to “net zero” impact, it is worth noting nature often goes even further: these outputs are usually beneficial to whatever is nearby.


Seneca Park Zoo Society’s Environmental Innovation Awards honors local and regional innovators working to create solutions to current environmental issues. Our Upper School biomimicry club was the Youth category winners for their HumanGrove project.

Our Upper School Biomimicry Club

The Biomimicry Club at The Harley School, an independent day school in Rochester, NY, recently created a solution that could mitigate the effects of increases in storm intensity and frequency on coastline erosion. The design for their project, HuMANGROVE, was inspired by the roots of mangrove trees. This marriage of science and technology, along with creative and inspirational thinking, was recently recognized as The 2018 Environmental Innovation Award winner in the youth category by the Seneca Park Zoo Society and third place in the Biomimicry Institute’s national Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge.

Middle School Embraces Design Process Thinking

Harley students in Grade 5 science began thinking about biomimicry during their unit on ecosystems. In Grade 6, they have five teams who will be entering this year’s challenge, with all their work completed as part of class.

When Middle School students first begin thinking about biomimicry they often gravitate toward biomorphism (“A giraffe’s neck is long, so I’m going to make my design long too.”) and focus on a trait without looking at the function. As they learned to “biologize” the problem they were able to explore the question, “How does nature…?” By thinking, for example, of ways to develop something strong, they began by considering what in nature is strong and why.

Harley School’s maker educator, Kima Enerson, is bringing a design process approach to the Middle School. By starting with a scrum board to track tasks and their progress, the students are learning ways to think about how to manage a project. This also helps students find—and own—aspects of the process. Whether they design using TinkerCad or explore potential materials to use, all the students are involved.

Press coverage of our Middle and Upper School teams—who earned honorable mention and second place nationally in 2019.

Lower School

Multiple Upper School capstones have focused on teaching biomimicry concepts to Lower School classes. One student taught a series of lessons about biomimicry to Grade 4, then students explored the major concepts of biomimicry and designed their own project. 

Why Biomimicry?

Biomimicry teaches children a compelling narrative backed by fascinating natural phenomena which can inspire solutions to human problems as often as the those generated in the traditional manufacturing world. These young scientists are making, observing, questioning, experimenting, ideating, and designing. As the next generation of thinkers grows up, they can adapt these lessons to develop better, more regenerative alternatives to the typical “take, make, and waste” approaches to design.

Taking the Lead

Upper School faculty member, Dr. Betsy Vinton, recently spoke at Green Schools Conference & Expo in Saint Paul, Minn. She presented with Gretchen Hooker from the Biomimicry Institute on engaging students in sustainable design with biomimicry.

Coverage in the Monroe County Post:

Betsy Vinton, science department co-chair and upper school mathematics and science teacher at The Harley School, spoke at the 2019 Green Schools Conference and Expo in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Vinton presented alongside with Gretchen Hooker from the Biomimicry Institute on engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math; and sustainable design with biomimicry youth design challenges. Vinton leads The Harley School’s biomimicry club, which earned third place last year in the Biomimicry Institute’s national, inaugural Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge for its project, huMANGROVE.

The Green Schools Conference and Expo was established by The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council and the Green Schools National Network and celebrates the work being done by people, schools, campuses and organizations to push the green schools’ movement forward.

Betsy Vinton

Upper School Mathematics and Science/Biology/Department Co-Chair

 (585) 442-1770 X-1267

The Harley School

1981 Clover Street
Rochester, NY 14618
(585) 442-1770

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