Janine Benyus at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 4

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This is Janine Benyus’ second appearance on a TED stage and for those who have seen her first talk, expectations are high. She is a science writer and innovator who fervently believes in the field of biomimicry.

She begins her talk by painting a picture for us of her 7-year-old neighbor, a boy who spends hours on his back studying nature and constantly comes to her with his questions. One day he asks about the large wasps’ nest on her back porch, wanting to know, “Who built it?” Benyus explains that she was taken aback at his assumption that because it was beautiful and complex, it was built by a human. It’s an assumption she thinks many of us hold.

We constantly forget, Benyus points out, that we were not the first to build and to construct. “If you think it’s hard to plan TED, try planning spring,” she tells us. From there she walks us through project after project inspired by nature’s designs — project’s that employ biomimicry. She shows slides of a train streamlined to resemble the beak of kingfisher to minimize air resistance, how new surfaces are mimicking shark skin to repel bacteria for use in hospitals and many many more.

To encourage more designs like these, Benyus has begun a new website called asknature.org, in cooperation with the Encyclopedia of Life. She dreams that one day designers and inventors everywhere will consult the site when beginning projects, to ask the question, “What would nature do?”