BBC – 3.1: How to Read Scientific Papers

Time to be resilient. Time to evolve, adapt, and attune to changes in my schedule. I have officially started my MDes degree, and am now faced with a rubber raft, being shipwrecked in the ocean of new information, as the brutal blinking cursor is beating down on me like the sun.

It is best to take the raft of least resistance and raise the stakes. Instead of summarizing the entire research and concept in one post, I am now spending more time at each design phase and extracting what might be relevant and useful to other designers, who would like to practice biomimicry as much as I would. Let’s start from the beginning. Discovering and Identifying a challenge, or – as we like to call it – opportunity. Here is a Design Spiral developed by Biomimicry Institute that summarizes the process of Biology to Design and Challenge to Biology:

Solution-based and Problem-based approaches. © Biomimicry Institute

By designer for designers: how to decipher and make sense of scientific writing

The first step, regardless of your choice of approach, will always lead to scientific papers. Understanding them is the key to a deep inspiration.

Sure, the term ‘discover’ could also mean that you put on your detective cap and I get my giant magnifying glass and we go see if we can find some clues. But this will likely still lead you to more questions that can only be answered by experienced scientists. Very few start-up designers have a luxury of having a biologist at the table. Scientific papers is the next best thing. Right now, I am taking my time with papers from medical fields and seeing if I can find correlation of challenges with biological systems. That means, a lot of science-related writings that can be extremely overwhelming to someone with an industrial design background.

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BBC-2: Of Cocoons, Bulletproof vests, and American Dagger Moths

To understand what is going on in this post, take 5 minutes to read this one. It’s an introduction to the concept of Biomimicry Biweekly Challenge, hence a mysterious abbreviation BBC in the title. I also wonder how many people ended up on this page by simply looking for the latest news from British Broadcasting Corporation.

The very hungry caterpillar

Once upon a time, an American Dagger Moth was spotted in my apartment, attempting to lodge itself between the hardcover books for shelter. About a month ago I caught a squirrel red-handed stomping all over my herbs. It was frequenting my 6th floor balcony with a mouthful of peanuts, lunching in oregano flowerpot, scattering husks all over the floor, and escaping by vertical wall Mission Impossible style.

Ever since then, I stopped wondering about random animals showing up in my apartment. This gorgeous caterpillar seemed agitated and worried, looking for a place to start pupating among The philosophy of Zen books. The agitation was passed on to me as I began scouring for books and websites to read up on the habits of dagger moths – here is what a came up with:

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iSite Basics: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About iSite* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Identify a spot that feels curious to you. You might use this same spot day after day or migrate around. It’s up to you. Once you are there, get settled and spend at least 20-30 minutes observing.

What relationships do you see? How about patterns? Describe or sketch them. What are some adaptations you see as a response to wind/predation/rain/decay/etc? Rather than asking “what is this organism doing?” ask “how does this behaviour fit the environment, and what will the organism do next”? 

These two paragraphs were taken right out of Biomimicry Resource Handbook. iSite was an excellent exercise that every Costa Rica workshop participant enjoyed throughout the week. It teaches how to be humble, how to quiet our cleverness, how to listen to the life shaping the environment.

iSite: David and Goliath

This sketch was drawn on the 4th day of the workshop during the intertidal zone visit. I sat on the rock for at least 30 minutes, observing a tiny crab gathering all its might to lift a gargantuan carcass of Goliath for who-knows what kind of purpose. A Halloween costume, perhaps? It was exhilarating to observe his fidgety self, patterns on the rocks adorned with barnacles, smell the air filled with salt and iodine, and hear the sound of waves crashing upon the crab whenever he would dare to approach the Goliath. Perseverance was rewarded by victory.

However, you do not have to go to Costa Rica to practice iSite – Tim wrote an excellent post about learning to observe without knowing what you observe right here, in your backyard. I do it all the time.

I never try to identify the species I draw. All the notes are added at home, when I have the need to dig deeper into the functions and behaviour of my teaching organism. Sometimes, it is incredibly hard – especially, when you are tempted to draw someone as common as a loon.

The way to do is to be

The other day, Vincenzo took me out for a bella giornata of fishing and a river-side picnic. If you picture a typical fly-fishing layman – standing thigh-deep in a streaming Ottawa River, rubber boots overflowing with water and sunburnt nose the colour of a boiled crayfish – you would picture me. This experience, however, reminded me of that 30 minute iSite, observing a tiny crab struggling against the waves to reel in an unyielding mass of a potential dinner.

Vincenzo knew exactly how to weave a loop of line in the air, how to settle the fly on the surface of the water, and how long to wait before mending the line. He was in tune with the environment. And while I was struggling to keep more water from streaming into my already waterborne socks, he was one with the experience.

iSite is quite similar to fly-fishing, I find. As long as there is just the mind (Which organism should I pick for inspiration?) and body (which sense do I tune into?) in the process, there is always a seesaw of power. But as soon as there is a more unifying goal – you become a spectator of a great theatrical performance, orchestrated by nature.

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BBC-1: Of Arteries, Patient Nutrition, and Pogonophoras

To understand what is going on in this post, take 5 minutes to read this one. It’s an introduction to the concept of Biomimicry Biweekly Challenge. Besides, you all are very brave to have read my incoherent thoughts this far. Stay strong! You can get through this!

Of birthdays, arteries, and Möbius strips

It all comes down to my husband, again. Well, to him and his bookshelf. Have you ever heard of a book “Imagining the Tenth Dimension” by Rob Bryanton? I highly recommend reading it, if you are into mind-expanding exercises.

According to Rob, as we move through the fourth dimension – time – we are very much like an ant on a Möbius strip. To us, time feels like a straight line, moving from past to the future. But as we move along the straight line, our choices are constantly branching in the fifth dimension. When we look back in time, it feels like a straight line to us moving in the fourth dimension, but that straight line is an illusion.

As you read this post, your fifth-dimensional self might now have two main branches – one would be the version of you that continues reading into the next paragraph, while another would be the one who decides to take a break and go do something else.

 Scenario 1

Hello to all those fifth-dimensional selves, who have chosen to tread onto the next paragraph! Let me introduce you to Mykola and Max.

Myk is a computer scientist, specializing in game programming. This particular choice of branch was influenced by his father, who specializes in cybernetics, by Myk’s exposure to computers and games at a very early age, and many other factors. He is also surrounded by the multitude of paths, one of which might as well lead him to become a surgeon. This has been his dream for many years. In the future – if chance, choice, and the actions of others permits – Myk will achieve his dream, regardless of how improbable it may seem at the moment.

On one of his birthdays, Myk was given a book – titled “The Human Body” – with beautiful illustrations explaining the structure, functions, and malfunctions of the machine we operate. This action, in principle, led me to my first Biomimicry Challenge.

A scan from a book that really caught my attention!

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Emiliania huxleyi + Great friends + Genius loci = Biweekly Biomimicry Challenge

I wonder, if Leonardo da Vinci or Mozart – provided they are still alive – would spend much time in conference rooms scribbling on whiteboards with dry-erase markers to generate their ideas? I hear, Mozart was often inspired by nature and complained that he had to think up his works indoors. Leonardo … well, we all know his take on this:

The eye, which is said to be the window of the soul, is the principal means whereby sensory awareness can most abundantly and magnificently contemplate the infinite works of nature.

If these great men spent their brainstorming sessions in board meetings, we probably would have never known such compelling masterpieces, as The Magic Flute and The Last Supper. To be truly successful, brainstorming sessions must move quickly and freely. There must be lots of laughing, positive energy, and seeding of new thoughts – be it in a group get-together or in a solitary space of your mind.

But this post is not about conducting proper brainstorming sessions: a functioning brain; some passion for a subject; a bowl of fresh fruit; and a line of trees, obstructing your view of the road, are all you really need. This post is about a challenge I got myself into, and you, my readers (yes, that’s right, all three of you!) will bear witness to my commitment.

I call it Biomeekly Challenge. Or Biomimicry Biweekly Challenge for grammar purists.

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