Chennai, August 10: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras is all set to offer a full semester, one-of-its-kind elective course under the interdisciplinary stream on Biomimicry. Biomimicry, as the name suggests is to imitate or look at Nature as a source of inspiration to solve complex problems.

Biomimicry is the intersection of biology and engineering. You do not have to be either a biologist or an engineer to learn biomimicry, all you need is curiosity. Curious enough to look at a lotus leaf and ask the question “How does a lotus leaf remain clean?

Next, you observe the leaf and learn it has microscopic bumps on its surface that repel water, due to which water droplets roll off the leaf’s surface, along with any dirt particles. You pick up this principle and build a similar structure in clothing. And lo and behold, you could have school uniforms that don’t get dirty. This is just an example of an application. You can have multiple applications from one organism, and there are millions of such organisms that have evolved strategies over billions of years of adaptation to our planet. We can use these blueprints and recipes from nature to design and build solutions for our world.

Biomimicry is not learning about nature but learning from it. The ethos of biomimicry or the guiding principle of biomimicry is that life creates conditions conducive to life. Some examples of modern engineering inspired by biomimicry include – the ‘Shinkansen’ bullet train in Tokyo, Japan, inspired by the kingfisher, the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe inspired by the termite mound, the town of Kalundborg in Denmark practising industrial symbiosis, wind turbine blade design inspired by the flippers of humpback whales and self-filling water flasks inspired by the Namib Desert beetle.

IIT madras
Nose cone of Shinkansen Bullet Train in Japan is modelled after the beak of Kingfisher to decrease the sound generated by the train.

IIT Madras is among the first institutions in India to offer a full-fledged course on biomimicry. The course will be taught by Prof. MS Sivakumar (Dean of Students, IIT Madras), Shiva Subramaniam (Chief Innovation Officer, Gopalakrishnan-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, IIT Madras), Prof. Satyanarayanan Seshadri (Department of Applied Mechanics) and Prof. Srinivasa Chakravarthy (Department of Biotechnology).

IIT Madras has also created a community of biomimicry enthusiasts who are exploring opportunities in research, entrepreneurship, new products, processes, and systems. The Institute plans to hold a biomimicry challenge to provoke bold, sustainable ideas from young minds. The UN Sustainable Development Goals can provide students with challenges for which they can design solutions using biomimicry.

Biomimicry has immense potential not only in engineering, technology and design, but also in other areas like management, human resources, administration, social sciences and the arts. School children can benefit from learning biomimicry. Biomimicry can lead to not just innovating from nature but also creating a sustainable way of life.