Biomimicry Intensive Two: Trying to Stay Cool in the Desert

By Denny Royal

March 27, 2016

Denny Royal on delving into the desert biome and the biomimetic framework.

Intensive Two took place in the Sonoran Desert, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be in February to escape the winter we had in Minnesota this year. We spent most of our time at the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch just outside of Phoenix on the northern side of the desert. The Sonoran covers a large portion of the American southwest and spills over into northern Mexico. It is a land of extremes, and yet there is an amazing abundance and diversity of life there. The Sonoran Desert includes 60 mammal species, 350 bird species, 20 amphibian species, over 100 reptile species, 30 native fish species, over 1000 native bee species, and more than 2000 native plant species. All of these species are adapted to these extreme conditions. The Sonoran is also the only place in the world that the famous Saguaro cactus grows, and we spent a fair amount of time studying these ancient giants.

Everything is about the sun and water in this environment—too much of one and not enough of the other. The adaptations that we observed around these two abiotic conditions were endless. From the fact that a Saguaro can take on 200 gallons of water in one good rainfall to the discovery that the Cactus Dodger Cicada is one of the few insects that sweats to cool itself made it all the more incredible and interesting for us.

We spent a fair amount of time this trip in the biomimicry thinking framework, working on scoping design challenges and the discovery phase. This framework is where the rubber really meets the road when considering a biomimetic project. During each in-person session we would rapidly work through a project to continue to build our skill sets. These sessions are aways good exercises to continue to gain the mental muscle memory that we will need as Biomimicry Professionals.

I think one of the other highlights of this intensive was the people that we got to spend time with. We were able to have an incredible chunk of time with Janine Benyus, author and founder of Biomimicry 3.8. We spent a lot of time talking about deep patterns in nature and how we should be looking at them from a biomimicry standpoint. We also discussed 3D printing and what that means in the world of sustainability, what our roles as biomimics means and why we are all doing this. We were able to spend some time hiking together, as we love to do. An additional high point was spending a good amount of time at Arizona State University in a variety of labs from the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis to the Fewell Lab and the Social Insect Research Group which studies bees and ants (a personal favorite). All in all, spending time with incredible people that are really trying to innovate and make a difference was hugely inspirational.

Leaving this session was bittersweet as always. Re-entry back to my day-to-day routine and life is always tough, and leaving like-minded individuals can make you feel isolated. But leaving this intensive I had an added pressure floating around in my head: Do we have enough time? Can we make a difference as biomimics? Can I actually make any sort of difference with this work? Or, have we passed a tipping point as a society and are we headed down an inevitable path? This trip has left me struggling for answers to these questions even more than I was before. I feel an even further imperative to learn as much about biomimicry as fast as possible and pass it on to others as quickly as I can. The clock is ticking.

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