Illustrated guide to biopolymers: structural elements of biological systems

This is my favourite leisure activity: pulling together information I find of natural materials, processes, systems and trying to understand them by using visual tools. Because, you know, as designers, we learn visually. Or so the urban legend goes. One of the most popular things I hear design students say is how complicated and out of reach they think biology is.

There is a common misconception that once you have chosen the path of designer, a path of science is closed for you once and for all.

I would love nothing more than to dispute this myth. Let’s start with materials.

  • Break the overwhelming list of natural polymers into manageable sections. Draw associations with these materials and their generalized properties.

Author: Alëna Konyk. General sources and properties of some natural polymers. Inspired by (Ratner, Hoffman, Schoen, & Lemons, 2004).

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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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