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The Impact Of Exposure To Biologically Inspired Design On The Environmental Ethics Of Undergraduate Engineering Students

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Topics in Engineering Ethics IV

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1221.1 - 14.1221.8



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Paper Authors

author page

Brent Nelson Northern Arizona University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

The Impact of Exposure to Biologically-Inspired Design on Environmental Ethics of Undergraduate Engineering Students


Many natural organisms have developed and adapted solutions to technical challenges that are similar to those encountered in the engineering world, including developing hard and tough materials, optimizing the division of labor and resources, maintaining constant temperature, and generating efficient propulsion in air and water. Biologically-inspired design (BID) refers to applying such natural solutions to generate innovative design solutions for human-encountered technical challenges. BID exposure allows ecological principles to be taught within an engineering context, potentially enhancing environmental appreciation among engineers. This study evaluates results from a survey instrument that evaluated environmental attitudes among engineering students in a BID course taught at our institution and was administered both at the beginning and end of the semester. The survey produced mixed results, with a statistically significant increase occurring in the number of students freely listing environmental impact as a design consideration, but a small decrease occurring in the relative rank of environmental impact when students were prompted to rank it against other design considerations. Such a disconnect between attitudes and actions has previously been observed and could be attributed to a number ties, media coverage, political debates, and a drought crisis that occurred in our region during the semester of the course. The preliminary results demonstrate that BID represents a promising approach for improving environmental ethics of engineering students and recommend further examination of the subject.


Concerns over climate change, energy production, and the impact of waste have caused many scientists and engineers to recognize the often negative impact of humans on their environment. ABET accreditation criteria now account for environmental responsibility with criterion 3c,

realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, Many scientists and engineers, however, have a limited awareness of the environmental impact of the technology they create and use, and they often do not investigate new design concepts and paradigms that might mitigate negative environmental effects. Ideally, engineers would proactively work on developing new engineering solutions that would help to mitigate the environmental effects of humans. Short of this ideal, even an engineer with only marginal concern about ecological health might design a product or process to use less toxic or recyclable materials, which would still be of significant benefit to the environment in general.

The question of how to strengthen the environmental ethics of engineering students remains the subject of much active study. Some studies have called for increased intervention from oversight bodies such as ABET and the UN,1,2 others have called for intervention from industry,3 while many others have described creation and development of environmental awareness and

Nelson, B. (2009, June), The Impact Of Exposure To Biologically Inspired Design On The Environmental Ethics Of Undergraduate Engineering Students Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4577

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