Biomimicry Global Design Challenge 2018: You Need the Planet and the Planet Needs You!

It’s that time of year again- the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge’s May 1st deadline is looming. This year’s focus is climate change and judges are looking for nature-inspired innovations to help us reverse or slow climate change or mitigate or adapt to potential impacts.

Whether you have already entered the competition, are still thinking of entering, or plan to participate next year, we want to share the story of a student team from Oregon who entered the competition in 2015 with a brilliant design concept and won First Prize! A member of the team now works in Portland and we tracked her down to ask about her experiences and to glean some tips for those who have entered (or are still thinking of entering) the Global Design Challenge.

Back in 2015, Casey Howard was in the final year of her Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Oregon. One of her courses required the class to break into teams and design entries for the Biomimicry Challenge. The challenge that year was Food Systems Innovations, and since none of Casey’s team had heard of biomimicry before, they plunged into the task of learning everything there is to know about Nature’s ingenious solutions. Several ideas made it to the table before the group designed a water filtration system inspired in part by the earthworm’s digestive system, which would filter farmland run-off before it polluted nearby waterways. They called it the Living Filtration System and, as a modification of current farming drainage systems, it has the potential to improve farming techniques by reducing the amount of fertiliser needed (follow this link to see more about their proposal).

To the team’s surprise, they won! The prize was participation in the Biomimicry Launchpad, an acceleration programme that provided the team with financial and mentoring resources to build the prototype of their design and implement it. The prototype demonstrated that the idea worked, although practical limitations such as cost and political will have prevented the team from successfully rolling out their innovation. The experience was one that has opened doors for Casey and she has gained a great deal of experience and knowledge from participating in the challenge.

Several factors defined the team’s experience that can be teased out and shared here. First, the team went through a vigorous process when developing their idea. Although all taking the same landscape architecture course, they came from diverse educational backgrounds and could each look at a problem differently and come up with a range of possible solutions. They relied on the Biomimicry resources offered by the Institute and from there developed their idea from scratch, solely for the purposes of the competition. They also intentionally focused on incorporating Nature’s unifying patterns. This led to the design of a really on-point innovative process that certainly impressed the judges.

This substantive aspect of the design process was combined with excellent communication and collaboration skills. As students of landscape architecture, they were expected to regularly form groups to work on projects and clearly communicate their work to different audiences through presentations and graphical representations. For Casey, the skills involved with presenting and explaining concepts were a major advantage her team had.

Accepting the opportunity to take part in the Biomimicry Launchpad elevated the team to another league entirely. Here, the focus wasn’t on recognising, designing, and presenting a unique solution but rather on operationalising their concept. At this stage of the challenge, Casey felt they lacked the necessary business experience that was clearly needed to advance the product beyond merely conceptual. A team really needs a strong entrepreneurial focus to make an impact with their innovation.

In sum, the Oregon team of 2015’s Biomimicry Design Challenge did phenomenally well because they developed an excellent biomimicry design concept according to competition requirements and communicated it very effectively. They exceeded their own expectations when they were invited to participate in the Biomimicry Launchpad, but they could not foresee and prepare for the needed entrepreneurial skills. They also appear ahead of the curve, as society’s political will to address point-source farming pollution in such a novel way has yet to evolve. Luckily, the concept is sitting comfortably on the shelf for now, and with the right “window of opportunity”, Casey is prepared to brush it off and try again. So, if you’re reading this and think you may be able to push this innovation forward and help clean up the adverse effects of farming practices, please get in touch!

Spring has sprung!

Biomimicry Oregon folks got out for a couple of walks recently. First, we walked the Oak Island Trail on Sauvie Island… which is actually now a biomimicry trail, courtesy of 7th graders at Sauvie Island Academy, Portland State University Capstone students and Sauvie Island Wildlife Area (ODFW).

Oak Island Biomimicry Trail

Oak Island Biomimicry Trail

We stood 20′ below an occupied bald eagle nest, and explored ideas like mimicking bird legs to earthquake-proof buildings! So, put on your hiking boots, load a QR scanner app on your smartphone, head out to learn from the critters that make Sauvie Island their home!


Bald eagle



TBI staff on Powell Butte

TBI staff on Powell Butte








We also hiked Powell Butte with The Biomimicry Institute staff, who were in town for a strategic planning retreat. Come join us on future hikes!

Our Connection – Nature Mentoring Immersion



Join tracker, naturalist and mentor Jon Young as he joins Portland’s nature connection leaders to present a weekend focusing on The Essentials of Nature Communication and Nature Connection. There will be camping; children; music; bird language; permaculture; farm fresh food; storytelling; rewilding skills and crafts; and naturalist adventures.

Find out more and register at:

Check out the Facebook event.

Biomimicry Educator’s Collaborative

Empowering K-8 grade students as stormwater designers, problem solvers and community, emulating nature’s genius.

         LeafPack1           LeafPack2

Biomimicry Oregon members Mary Hansel and Charlie Graham led biomimicry educator workshops in the Summer and Autumn 2013. Building on Biomimicry Oregon’s Genius of Place research and with the financial support of Erica Stokes, Education Coordinator at West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (WMSWCD), local educators had the opportunity to learn and experience the power of biomimicry concepts and explore how it might be integrated into their own curriculum development.

Charlie Graham developed and implemented biomimicry sessions during in-service educator workshops (Oct – Dec 2013) in collaboration with Tryon Creek State Park. The workshops were designed and instructed with Matthew Collins (Tryon Education Director) and Stephanie Wagner (Portland State University science instructor). Two biomimetic models were used as spring-board examples- “Leaf Pack” macroinvertebrate water quality analysis developed by the Stroud Water Research Center and the Backyard Habitat Certification Program (BHCP) developed by the Audubon Society of Portland and Columbia Land Trust. 

In a follow-up workshop, Ginny Stern, science teacher at Sunnyside Environmental School, presented her very successful Biomimicry Invention Convention to attendees. Charlie followed up with teachers in May 2014 and found two had developed impressive curricula applying biomimicry concepts to specific challenges. A pre-school teacher asked “how does nature manage waste?”, while a 6th grade teacher asked students “how does nature maximize space?” with 9 biomimetic lessons in a 5 month period, to solve for their own overcrowded classroom.

Biomimetic Inventor Jay Harman Visits Portland!

PNCA- Jay Harman Lecture

Biomimicry Oregon, in partnership with the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), White Cloud Press, and Oregon BEST, produced two events featuring Biomimetic innovator and entrepreneur, Jay Harman. A public lecture on the evening of October 7, 2013 held at PNCA attracted more than 250 attendees.

Inspired by nature’s flow geometries, Jay Harman has designed more efficient industrial equipment, including refrigeration, turbines, boats, fans, mixers, and pumps, and is the founder of several companies to bring these products to the market. Harman shared his infectious enthusiasm and war stories that propelled him to create nature-inspired innovative products that have made him a pioneer in bio-inspired sustainable technologies. Harman said, “Nothing short of the overhaul of the entire industrial sector is possible” and he strongly believes that Biomimicry holds great promise. Harman shared some of the challenges he and his team at PAX Scientific have faced in bringing new technologies to market in established industries such as boating, refrigeration, and water treatment.

The second event held on October 8, 2013 was an informal conversation between Jay Harman and Chris Larson of Biomimicry Oregon, at PNCA’s Collaborative Design graduate program studio space. This event attracted roughly 30 people. Jay Harman’s faith in Biomimicry and unshakable perseverance seemed apparent from the engaging dialogue that spanned for an hour and half. Jay’s boyhood fascination and love for the sea led him to question how nature creates boats. He spent hours swimming and skin diving, which sparked his interest through deep observation of nature’s patterns of fluid flow. He was obsessed with spirals and reverse engineered the geometry of the spiral shape which underlies all fluid flow.

PNCA Jay Harman-2

Harman mentioned a few qualities he and his business and life partner, wife Francesca Bertone, observed in the other Biomimics they interviewed. Often entrepreneurial Biomimics exhibit a trait of “resolute stubbornness.” They hold a deep conviction that they can make a difference and do not take no for an answer. Sometimes a bad experience triggers the entrepreneur. In Harman’s case, the death of a friend’s son riding on the bow of a boat who fell overboard and was killed by the propeller. This event set Harman on course to invent a propeller whose form is inherently safe.

Harman spoke about the importance of finding “patient capital,” noting that most funds raised to develop his products had been from private investors with a long-term horizon. Harman was convinced that his innovation would work if he would accurately follow nature’s pattern rather than try to improve on it. Harman’s final remarks were to the Collaborative Design graduate students to follow their passion in whatever fascinated them, as he believes that fascination is a strong influencer to actualize one’s dreams.

PNCA-Jay Harman Lecture-book signing

Jay Harman recently published a book, The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation. The book features dozens of Biomimicry case studies as well as chronicles Harman’s own entrepreneurial journey from his inspiration of nature’s systematic design to successful implementation of efficient industrial devices.

“The ultimate hero in all that we do: nature.” — Jay Harman

October 2013 Newsletter

Biomimicry Oregon   October 2013

Join Biomimicry Oregon for a free lecture by Jay Harman, biomimetic inventor and entrepreneur, and author of the new book, The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation.

What: Free Lecture – Biomimicry: The Next Big Thing – How Nature is Inspiring Radical Innovation

When: Monday, October 7, 2013 at 7:00pm

Where: PNCA, 1241 Northwest Johnson Street, Portland, OR 97209

Entrepreneur and inventor Jay Harman is one of the most sought after speakers on Biomimicry. Jay is one of the world’s leaders in Biomimicry research and development, at the forefront of the Biomimicry design movement as a nature-inspired designer. As founder and CEO of PAX Scientific and its subsidiaries, he has designed more efficient industrial equipment, including refrigeration, turbines, boats, fans, mixers, and pumps and is the founder of several companies to bring these products to market.

Harman says he is “on a mission to halve the world’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through Biomimicry and waste elimination.” He believes that it is simply false when some industrial leaders claim that we cannot afford green solutions because they will undermine the economic recovery. According to Harman, “all over the world, across dozens of industries, people are finding profitable solutions to seemingly intractable problems by partnering with nature. Following nature’s design mastery, we can achieve greater wealth and economic sustainability.”

Join us for this sure-to-be-inspiring talk by gifted storyteller and successful businessman – Jay Harman!

Sponsored by: Pacific Northwest College of Art, Biomimicry Oregon, Oregon BEST, White Cloud Press

Sustainable Business Oregon interview with Jay Harman:


The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) Reading Group is excited to offer a reading of The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation book by Jay Harman, organized by ISSP Biomimicry workshop leader, Mary Hansel.

Dates: Oct.19 – Nov.16, 2013
Nov.1, 2013, 12-1pm PST, webinar with the author

To prepare:
1. Register here:
(Free for ISSP members; $25.00 for non-members)

2. Purchase the book. The publisher has it discounted 35% on their website and has pledged to donate $1.00 per book sold, to the non-profit Biomimicry 3.8 Institute.
Purchase here:

The Shark’s Paintbrush reflects a force of change in the new global economy that does more than simply gratify human industrial ambition; it teaches us how to live in harmony with nature and opens bright opportunities for a better future. Let inventor and entrepreneur, Jay Harman introduce you to stunning solutions to some of the world’s thorniest problems.

Why does the bumblebee have better aerodynamics than a 747?
How can copying a butterfly wing reduce the world’s lighting energy bill by 80 percent?
How will fleas’ knees and bees’ shoulders help scientists formulate a near perfect rubber?

Join us for a fascinating journey through the world of Biomimicry as we read Jay Harman’s new book, The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation.


Inspired by nature? The Biomimicry 3.8 Institute wants you to turn inspiration into action by registering for its 2013-2014 Biomimicry Student Design Challenge. Learn Biomimicry and apply your new skills to solve either a local or global challenge associated with transportation. The environmental, social, and economic impacts of transportation have steadily increased as the demands of people and freight have continued to grow. Can Biomimicry help make the transportation sector more life-friendly, efficient, and effective for people and the planet? The Institute wants to find out!

Register a team today to access Biomimicry design resources, coaching from a trained Biomimicry professional, and the chance to win cash prizes.

Visit for details and to register.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Digg :


Free Lecture by Jay Harman at PNCA Oct. 7, 2013
The Shark’s Paintbrush – Book Reading Group Oct.19-Nov.16, 2013
Biomimicry Global Design Competition


Biomimicry Oregon seeds life-friendly innovation by inspiring people to put nature’s genius to work in every organization in Oregon.

Our mission is to nurture and grow a multi-disciplinary, Biomimicry “learning and doing community” in Oregon focused on applying Biomimicry to academia, business, education, government and non-profit activities throughout the state. Learn more

Keep Up With Us

Friend on Facebook Facebook
Follow on Twitter Twitter

A Walk in the Woods

Ever wonder how a stinging nettle and a stream bed are like a water bottle?.  Or what elements actually comprise a bioregion?   These questions, and many others, were discussed during the recent “Walk in the Park” up Balch Creek.  It was an inspiring evening reconnecting with the flora and fauna of our region and the diverse members of BIomimicry Oregon.  A special thanks to naturalists, Scott Bowler and Ginny Stern, who shared their deep knowledge with us.


IMG_2869 IMG_2870 IMG_2874 IMG_2876 IMG_2881 IMG_2882

Biomimicry Oregon at DaVInci Days in Corvallis

Biomimicry Oregon was invited to table in Corvallis with OSU Sea Grant, at the 25th Annual DaVinci Days. This Art & Science festival sponsored by City of Corvallis, Benton County and Oregon State University, brought community members together to explore and celebrate innovation & creativity July 19 – 21, 2013.

The Grand Kinetic Challenge events, Electrathon race and robotics display joined with Discover OSU to feature the work of researchers and students of OSU.  In addition, a film festival, speaker series, music and art ensured a fun family event with something for everyone.

Biomimicry Oregon featured our Genius of Place Stormwater project and Backyard Habitat partnership with West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District.  Most people who stopped had never heard of biomimicry, but quickly engaged in exploring connections to their worlds.

Being side by side with the invasive species specialists from OSU’s Hatfield Marine Center and researchers from the College of  Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, fostered some illuminating intra-booth conversations.  In addition, researchers from other Discover OSU booths stopped by to share their bio-inspired research in disciplines including Biological and Ecological Engineering,, Marine Conservation Management, Microbiology, Botany & Plant Pathology & Mechanical Engineering.  Community members and many students also expressed enthusiasm for our two projects and interest in applying to their watersheds.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, recently returned to OSU after a 4 year stint as NOAA Administrator, opened the festival with a talk entitled, “The Silly to the Sublime: Stories about Science in D.C”.  Her talk highlighted the need to make science relevant by communicating sound science and ‘connecting the dots’ in ways that everyone can understand.   It was gratifying how many people recognized Biomimicry Oregon as a ‘dot connecting’ organization and resonated with our vision of “inspiring innovation in Oregon by emulating nature’s genius.”

Interest was high enough to generate discussion for a follow-up gathering once Fall term is underway.  We are grateful to Dr. Sam Chan, Sea Grant Extension for including Biomimicry Oregon in OSU’s outreach during DaVinci Days.


June 24th Practitioner’s Jam

Biomimicry Oregon held its second Practitioner’s Jam on Monday, June 24th with great success.  The challenge was how would Nature design affordable housing in Tornado Alley.

The Jam was fun and hatched some creative solutions.  
Thanks to Jeff Roberts and SERA Architects for the gathering space.  And Tricia Clemans and Charles Kelley for the tasty snacks and beverages.
The next Practitioner’s Jam will be held in July around the next full moon (aka the Thunder Moon).  
Please contact Chris Larson for details.