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Changing the Mindset of Engineering Education through Biomimicry

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Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference



Publication Date

April 9, 2021

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April 9, 2021

End Date

April 10, 2021

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Ross A. Lee Villanova University

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Dr. Ross A. Lee, Villanova University

Ross Lee is a Professor of Practice in Sustainable Engineering at Villanova University where he teaches Biomimicry, Sustainable Materials and Design, and Engineering Entrepreneurship. In addition to his academic experience (joined Villanova in 2008), Dr. Lee has over 36 years of industrial experience with the DuPont company (retired July 2009) spanning a wide variety of technology, product and new business developments including films, resins and innovative packaging systems.

He has authored or coauthored over 35 patents and publications. He has a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Michigan State University and a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Rochester.

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Giles Wozniak Villanova University

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Giles Wozniak is a Graduate Assistant in Villanova University's Sustainable Engineering Program. His background is in civil and architectural engineering from Drexel University and he has spent a number of years in the field before beginning his master's full-time. At Villanova he has worked with companies such as Bala Consulting Engineers and The Boeing Company to advance their sustainability initiatives. In 2019 he presented his work with Boeing on supply chain criticality at the IMAT (International Materials Applications and Technologies) Conference. Giles is currently finishing his master's thesis where he is conducting a Life Cycle Assessment with the help of AIT Bridges on a bridge design that makes use of carbon and glass fiber members as the primary structural system to resist corrosion in a marine environment.

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Alicia Piscitelli Villanova University

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Alicia is a graduate student studying sustainability within the aerospace industry specifically focusing on the phenolic resin supply chain. Her work includes the strategy to scale up renewable sourced monomers for direct replacement in commercially available resins and defining sustainability for organic materials from a whole systems perspective.

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Anitha Devi Kannan Villanova University

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Andrew Jester Villanova University, Sustainable Engineering Program

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Changing the Mindset of Engineering Education through Biomimicry G. Wozniak, A. Jester, A. Kannan, A. Piscitelli, M. Toro, R. Lee

For much of industrialized society, products have been engineered to “control” nature. We condition the air inside our buildings to our liking with enormous amounts of energy. We mass-produce single-use plastics for our convenience without a successful strategy to collect and make use of them at their end of life. We use harmful pesticides to protect our crops but do not fully understand the damage they may be doing to our bodies and the environment. Nature does none of these things, yet has been able to provide for countless species throughout Earth’s history. Why not learn from Nature? Why not make use of the billions of years of engineering that took place before humans even existed?

Biomimicry is the application of natural phenomena to solve engineering problems. This method of design is not necessarily new and many common and historic designs are biomimetic. This includes the invention of Velcro® by noticing how burrs stick to a dog’s fur, to bullet trains in Japan that draw inspiration from the kingfisher’s beak to reduce noise and improve energy efficiency. These incredible solutions and many others were discovered by observing the natural environment all around us. Biomimicry is an invaluable tool that can be employed by engineers to continue to improve the lives of people and advance humanitarian efforts.

The Biomimicry course taught in Villanova University’s Sustainable Engineering program provides students the opportunity to assess current engineering solutions in areas they are most concerned. These topics have ranged from issues associated with current approaches to energy systems, building practices, and agricultural landscape. The course structure allows students to understand the benefits and issues associated with their chosen topic, observe and analyze nature for examples of relevant and successful designs, discover biomimetic projects that are currently underway, and experiment with biomimetic strategies to better solve the problems by achieving the benefits without the issues. This curriculum helps change the mindset and foster creativity in the next generation of engineers who will be tasked with solving the problems of the future. This paper will explain the course in greater detail, and how its approach differs from conventional engineering education. It will provide perspectives from students of different disciplines who have taken the course, co-instructed in the course, and are currently applying their changed mindset to their research and jobs.

Lee, R. A., & Wozniak, G., & Piscitelli, A., & Kannan, A. D., & Jester, A. (2021, April), Changing the Mindset of Engineering Education through Biomimicry Paper presented at Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference, Virtual . 10.18260/1-2--36290

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