“Biomimetics and Energy” [course outline]

Specialisation in Master programme, ‘Erneuerbare Urbane Energiesysteme’  MEE, UAS Technikum Vienna, AT, 2010-2015

The course ‘Biomimetics and Energy’ had its successful kick-off in the winter term 2010 at the UAS Technikum Vienna, developed by Susanne Gosztonyi, as a new lecture concept for active collaborative learning in the Master programme ‘Erneuerbare Urbane Energiesysteme’ . Since then, the workshop’s dedication is to explore energy manifestations in nature and in technology by looking at their functional mechanisms and principles. The target is to understand basic physical principles that are used in the natural world as well as in the human-made technology world. Students investigate in group work physical and chemical principles and their theories, identify biological role models and create prototypes as explanation models. With designing and crafting simple demonstration models, they finally show if the functionality of the chosen principle has been understood correctly.

Course objectives
The interdisciplinary scientific discipline Biomimetics is based on the idea to explore and understand functional “survival” strategies in nature. By understanding the functional mechanisms and implementation strategies of organisms and biological systems, a potential transfer to human-made solutions can be assessed and developed in order to create new or improve existing.
The aim of the course is to give an insight into the interdisciplinary scientific fields of Biomimetics and to explore methods in Biomimetics by focusing on some aspects of the “understanding” steps: By investigating principles of energy manifestations in nature and by using creativity methods, such as model making, to explain them, the “understanding” shall be supported.
The course enables the ability not only to disrupt physical principles from technical systems, but also to experimentally explore energy processes. The course encourage students to increase the awareness of the applicability of biomimetic knowledge for energy in the built environment.

Learning outcomes
The course shall enable the understanding of physical principles for energy conversion, energy efficiency or energy use in nature, since the ability to understand physical principles is one of the critical success factors of how biology can support technical development. A student who has met the objectives of the course will be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

  • demonstrate the understanding how to abstract and investigate in various non-related disciplines for defined questions and translate this into the own domain language
  • demonstrate an understanding of basic physical principles, independent of technical applications considerations
  • demonstrate the basics of the “top-down process” in biomimetics

Competences and skills

  • able to apply biological search engines and search biological literature (books and scientific papers)
  • demonstrate the skill to transform technical questions into abstract ed questions for enabling interdisciplinary R&D
  • apply creativitiy methods, such as model making, prototyping, graphic design tools, sketches or technical designs

Judgement and approach

  • able to formulate and analyze biological phenomena
  • able to investigate and assess physical principles independent from the application
  • able to understand and gain an open approach to interdisciplinary thinking and R&D
  • able to independently develop evaluations, modelling and communication methods
  • demonstrates the competence to communicate working methods and results in scientific (report), oral (presentation) and in popular form (poster)

How it works
The objective is to gather experience by employing the method biomimetics, i.e. on how to search in nature for relevant analogue solutions for a specific question and how to use findings as inspiration when developing and designing energy related products. As it is a one-semester workshop and cannot cover a whole biomimetic research process, the students will focus on:

  • “search”: Search and select biological role models with a specific energy related function in literature sources and databases, and study the selected organism(s),
  • “interpret”: Identify the relevant functional principle(s) and understand it in detail,
  • “design”: Sketch the principle and construct a simple model describing the principle in an intuitive way to an audience by posters, models, and speech.

The work is  elaborated in project groups and the results are presented in a semi-public “workshop fair” at the end of the semester. The best models will be  chosen by the students and by an invited jury, and used for public events of the UAS Technikum Vienna (e.g. for the national event “Lange Nacht der Forschung Wien” or “Tag der offenen Tür”).

SOME WORKSHOP RESULTS – winter term 2014/2015


SOME MORE EXAMPLES – terms (2011 – 2013)

Susanne Gosztonyi (Course coordinator, Biomimetics)

Support: Dr. Marcus Rennhofer (Physics)

plus invited experts (varying, depending on chosen topics)