Two of our researchers spoke on biomimetic approaches to environmental sustainability at the 2018 New York State Green Building Conference in Syracuse, N.Y., hosted recently by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), in Syracuse, N.Y.

Dr. Petra GruberDr. Petra Gruber, at right, an associate professor of art and biology at our Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center (BRIC), and Kelly Siman, a doctoral student in the Integrated Bioscience Program and fellow in the Biomimicry Fellowship Program, were among the many experts invited to speak at the annual conference on green building (the design, construction and processes of environmentally sustainable structures).

Gruber, who also is an architect, spoke about cost- and energy-saving applications of biological principles to architectural design. Examples include the use of fungus and organic waste (such as paper, wood chips and sawdust) to create a lightweight insulation material, as well as the imitation of bird nests in designing structures without the need, for instance, of toxic glue.

She and Ariana Rupp, a doctoral student and biomimicry fellow at UA, are currently studying the relationship between leaf shape and energy dissipation and its potential application to the cooling of building facades.

“I’m looking at architecture through the lens of biology,” Gruber says. “I look for the characteristics of life – energy use, metabolic activity and growth – in architectural designs. In contrast to technology, biological organisms are efficient in a multidimensional way. It’s a more integrated, holistic efficiency on many layers of design.”

Kelly SimanIn her presentation, Siman, at right, explored various environmental solutions proposed by the nonprofit organization Project Drawdown. She largely focused on green roofs and cool roofs, which have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Green roofs refer to a building roof substrate that is covered in some type of vegetation,” says Siman, who is a research fellow for Drawdown. “This can range from extensive green roofs covered in low-lying sedums to intensive green roofs that have fully working orchards and farms on them. Green roofs provide insulation in the winter and cooling in the summer, lowering heating and air conditioning costs.”

Cool roofs, she adds, are made of materials that reflect instead of absorb solar energy, likewise reducing cooling costs.

“Prior to coming to UA, I did a lot of research on climate change, which was depressing,” Siman says. “Biomimicry was a chance for me to change the narrative – to actively find mitigation and adaptation solutions to climate change, be it oceans or land-based. I now have the training – the biomimetic lens – to ‘biologize’ questions and seek solutions.”

BRIC’s Biomimicry Fellowship Program, in collaboration with Great Lakes Biomimicry, allows Siman, Rupp and other students in the Integrated Bioscience Program to dedicate 20 hours per week to advancing biomimicry initiatives within a sponsoring organization, while undertaking biomimicry-related dissertation research.

The Integrated Bioscience Program is “the leading university-based biomimicry program in the U.S.,” says Josh Stack, the visiting instructor at SUNY-ESF who invited Gruber and Siman to the conference, which is hosted in partnership with U.S. Green Building Council New York Upstate and the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems.

“The UA biomimicry program is a fantastic model of university and industry collaboration,” he adds. “It is a true asset to the biomimicry community.”

Source: University of Akron Digest