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Amherst schools first in Ohio to add biomimicry class


AMHERST — An hour away from Marion L. Steele High School, the University of Akron is leading the way in a new field of science that will teach the world to innovate by modeling nature.

Closer to home, Amherst students will be able to test-drive the concepts of biomimicry with a new elective course for next school year.

The stand-alone course is among the first of its kind at a traditional public school in the state. It has been a more-than-three-year-long process to bring the class to Amherst, but well worth the effort to bring students a new science course considering how close Amherst is to the University of Akron, which offers doctorate-level biomimicry study, said Mike Molnar, the district’s executive director of academic services.

“Because it is a relatively new field in the world of science, I was really interested in it,” Molnar said. “The thought of sustainability and this idea that biomimicry is looking at nature’s solutions to problems in the same way of solving human problems is very exciting and will allow our students to engage in a new way.”

People may not know what biomimicry is at first, but hearing a few examples of its applications is all it takes to illustrate the concept. And beyond lab and classroom study, biomimicry has the potential to be an economic development tool for regions, said Carol Thaler, director of administration and outreach for Great Lakes Biomimicry.

“There will be jobs that come out of finding new ways to innovate,” Thaler said.

Biomimicry also has a local home. At the Great Lakes Biomimicry Technology Center in the Desich SMART Center at Lorain County Community College, students are involved in internships through the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise.

Velcro is the most ubiquitous example of biomimicry, Thaler said, and it rose from a Swiss scientist walking his dog in the 1940s. After returning home from the walk, the dog was covered in burrs. It prompted George de Mestral to look at the burrs under a microscope to better understand the burrs’ sticking power.

The small hooks found at the end of the burr needles inspired him to create the billion-dollar industry that is Velcro.

Then, there is the bullet train in Japan, which rattled residents with the sonic booms it produced. A bird-watching engineer solved the problem after observing how the kingfisher bird ascends quickly and almost silently into a pool of water. As a result, the train was re-engineered to mimic the bird’s beak and now it goes faster, uses less energy and is quieter.

Amherst and Lorain County, Thaler said, are leading the way in looking at biomimicry as a field of study for students. With funding from the Nord Family Foundation, Great Lakes Biomimicry has worked with teachers in Amherst, Elyria and at Lake Ridge Academy and St. Anthony of Padua School in Lorain.

“We are excited to see the investment of our time and foundation’s money being put to good use all over the county; and Amherst is taking this to another level by offering this class to its students,” she said.

The reach of biomimicry is so vast and crosses so many disciplines that it’s a natural fit for K-12 education, said Christine Hockman, also with Great Lakes Biomimicry.

“It is really attractive to teachers because you are preparing students for 21st-century jobs and just by its own nature, biomimicry is collaborative and focused on project-based learning. … A lot of teachers use this as a gateway to STEAM,” she said.

Amherst teacher Angie DeLeon, who attended a Great Lakes Biomimicry workshop two summers ago, will teach the course that has so far attracted more than 50 interested juniors and seniors. She said she is developing a curriculum that is very hands-on and offers a lot of ability for students to be creative.

“I will be teaching them how to look at the world through a different lens,” she said. “The question is how nature solves its problems. It’s been solving problems big and small for 3.8 million years, and it has been very efficient at it.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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