Arts & Life, Features

Industrial design students use biomimicry to design products that help the environment

The California condor soars high against a bright blue sky, with its 15-foot wingspan.

Thousands of feet below, a group of Long Beach State industrial design students pull inspiration from the creature. Studying images of the bird, they model the angular design of their air filtration system after the animal’s wings.

“We looked into how we could suck the [carbon dioxide] from the air,” said Helen Bibo, a fourth-year industrial design student. “That would make the air a bit cleaner. Then [we asked] what we could do with the [carbon dioxide] after the filters get dirty.”

The product would not only filter carbon dioxide out of the air, but store carbon to later be recycled into concrete, stone, soil or fuel.

Bibo and her team are one of several industrial design groups designing products that cover a variety of environmental concerns like air pollution, coral reef bleaching, packaging material waste and sustainable gardening.

The teams will be submitting their ideas to the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, an annual competition put on by the Biomimicry Institute.

Each team must craft their products through the lens of “biomimicry,” a method of design that pulls inspiration from biological elements in nature.

“Nature has a really good track record of making good designs,” said Joe Reed, an instructor for one of two industrial design methodology classes competing in the challenge. “Instead of trying to use human ingenuity to solve problems, [we] rather look towards nature and the solutions that have already been established.”

Students in the classes are divided into teams that will then brainstorm, research, design and produce a prototype of their nature-inspired product. It’s a two-semester-long process for students.

“As designers, of course, we love prototyping and ideating and solving problems,” said Jonah Marucchi, a third-year student in the program. “That’s what we do, we’re professional problem solvers.”

The CSULB industrial design department has regularly competed in the challenge and has found much success, as one team placed second in last year’s challenge. Several other teams have placed in the top-10 in past challenges.

“This is a project or a competition that we have excelled at in the past,” Reed said. “It is a matter of pride to the design department to excel and have good work.”

Another team in Reed’s class is designing a fully biodegradable packing envelope that could replace the current envelopes used by Amazon and other major shipping corporations. Most of the envelope would be made out of “mycelium,” a biodegradable material made from the root structure of mushrooms.

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The team looked to the body of the Goliath beetle and mimicked the “Y” shape of its exoskeleton to create the folding patterns for the envelope’s flaps.

“I was looking at the formation of the parting lines on the back of its shell,” said team member Hunter Ahlberg. “It’s kind of like a cool dichotomy that we were trying to mimic in our packaging.”

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Teams presented rough drafts of their slideshows and storyboards for their videos in the design building’s junior studio Feb. 20.

“In the industrial design program, we are known for not getting any sleep around here,” Reed said. “All-nighters are a way of life in junior studio.”

Another section of the same class, instructed by Shelly Takahishi, will also be submitting design ideas to the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge.

Submissions are due by May 1 and finalists will be selected in June. 

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