TAME Engineering Adventure: Building with Biomimicry

TAME Engineering Adventure: Biomimicry! A hands-on activity challenging middle school and high school students to build robot hands and flowers, to think like biologists and biomedical engineers!
Above, left: a robotic hand from the project Grasping With Straws. Above, top middle: Muscles of the Hand and Wrist, by Elisa Shorn, circa 1900, shared with a Creative Commons License by Heidelberg University. Above, top right: a robotic flower from the Curiosity Machine project Build a Blooming Flower. Above, bottom right: Hibiscus at Zilker Botanical Garden, shared with a Creative Commons License by Anne Swoboda.

Welcome to TAME Engineering Adventures! Every month we strive to bring you two engineering activities (one for middle school, one for high school) that will help you challenge your students with hands-on learning. 

Looking for ways to incorporate engineering projects into your biology or science class? Great news! Animals, plants, and microbes are nature's engineers, and whenever human scientists, inventors, and engineers build on their designs they are participating in biomimicry.

From the Biomimicry Institute, "Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul."

This month's Engineering Adventure are a perfect fit for hands-on learning in Biology class and challenging TAME Club members to think creatively in preparation for our Divisional and STEM Competitions.

Middle School Adventure: Build A Blooming Flower
Accepting a challenge from the Curiosity Machine, middle schoolers will be buzzing about this experiment as they design a blooming flower that can work alongside bees and other pollinators. Show your students how engineers and other designers look to the natural world for efficient, beautiful and off-the-wall solutions to human challenges.

TEKs Tie-Ins: Perfect for 6th graders as they learn about levels of organization of an ecosystem; 7th Graders' science concepts like plant and animal systems, and reproduction of plants using pollination; 8th graders studying interactions between organisms in ecosystems, including producer/consumer, predator/prey, and parasite/host relationships, and talk about the closing mechanism of flowers as a defense strategy as students explore how organisms and their populations respond to short- and long-term environmental changes, including those caused by human activities.

Bonus: Share this video with your students and challenge them to consider ways they can use folds in the paper to add more petals to their machines. Can they brainstorm new ways of using this "flower crank" in solar energy, space ships, cars, planes, even clothing? Video: Beautiful Unfolding Kinetic Lights That Bloom like Flowers

Give this robot a hand! Make your TAME Club members into future biomedical engineers with straws, string, and a little ingenuity. Through trial and error in the design process, the makers of these grasping hands will see whether following nature’s lead helps with the end results.

TEKs Tie-Ins: There are several high school level math and science classes in which you could introduce this project to great effect.

Aquatic Science TEKS concepts:
  • consider the application of robotic hands in underwater and submersible research on these topics:
    • classify different aquatic organisms
    • identify the major properties and components of different marine and freshwater life zones
    • collect baseline quantitative data, including pH, salinity, temperature, mineral content, nitrogen compounds, and turbidity from an aquatic environment
    • analyze interrelationships among producers, consumers, and decomposers in a local aquatic ecosystem
  • consider the application of robotic hands in space exploration:
    • contributions to human space flight and future plans and challenges
    • recognize the advancement of knowledge in astronomy through robotic space flight
    • maintenance of space telescopes for the collection of astronomical data across the electromagnetic spectrum
  • science and social ethics; students should be able to distinguish between scientific decision-making methods (scientific methods) and ethical and social decisions that involve the application of science
    • example of a scientist choosing to use the highest quality metal alloys for a robotic hand, but then many disabled people cannot afford to buy one; one possible ethical solution is to experiment with viable alternatives such as 3D printed plastics to apply the scientific concepts in an affordable way to help more people
  • cell structure, viruses, disease
    • compare the structures of viruses to cells, describe viral reproduction, and describe the role of viruses in causing diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and influenza
    • example of Meningitis caused by viral or bacterial infections leading to amputation and need for bionic arms and legs, like this young woman
  • demonstration of hand mechanics linked to evolution and natural selection
    • analyze and evaluate the relationship of natural selection to adaptation and to the development of diversity in and among species
    • compare hand mechanisms with flippers, paws, etc to study the effects of other evolutionary mechanisms, including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination


Bonus: Share this video about a young woman testing out a version of a 3D printed bionic arm, discuss ways students would improve on the arms or re-design their hands after seeing what is possible. What other ways could robotics help people? One engineer from Sierra Leone asks in this TED talk, what other problems happen with prosthetic limbs, and how can we engineer solutions? 

TAME High School Engineering Adventure

Looking for more? 

These ideas come from our curated idea boards on Pinterest. If you liked these, you'll love our Engineering: Activities for All Ages board!

With over 3,700 pins organized into 47 different boards, TAME's Pinterest presence is specially curated to help teachers, parents, and students of all ages get excited about STEM. 

By Lindsey Carmichael, August 18, 2015.

Stepping Up for STEM in Wichita Falls: Marcie Will...
IBM Awards Impact Grant to TAME