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Talking Biomimicry with Lily Urmann of Arizona State University’s Biomimicry Center [2019 Video Interview]

This morning I had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Urmann, my dear friend and fellow UCSC sustainabilibuddy graduate. We spoke about one of her favorite favorite subjects: Biomimicry.

The Biomimicry Institute describes biomimicry as "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. The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival."

Lily is fully immersed in the study and development of programs related to biomimicry at Arizona State University. The work of the Biomimicry Center at ASU is at the forefront of biomimicry education, and it's inspiring in many ways, so I wanted to create a way for her to share with you all, too.

Lily and I met at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where we both went to school and worked in the campus Sustainability Office.

Lily is passionate about creating systematic change through community collaboration, student involvement, and education.

Her undergrad thesis was titled, "Integrating Biomimicry Into Higher Education," and she is currently enrolled in the Arizona State University Biomimicry Master's program.

She's also helping to launch their first on-campus undergraduate biomimicry program as the Program Coordinator for the ASU Biomimicry Center.

I invited Lily to talk with me about the fascinating world of biomimicry—what it is, why it’s inspiring to study, and how biomimicry can help us solve some of the issues we face in the world.

Watch the full interview below or on my Youtube channel.


In this talk, we discuss:

  • What biomimicry is
  • The Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University
  • Biomimicry Masters Program at ASU
  • New Biomimicry Undergraduate Program at ASU starting this fall 2019
  • Some inspiring examples of biomimicry, like shark skin and lotus leaves
  • Unexpected learnings in her journey studying biomimicry
  • Advice she would give her younger self -- stay positive and focused on solutions!
  • 3 spheres of biomimicry: (Re)Connect, Emulate, and Ethos
  • Humanitree: A social networking project she's working on based on the "wood-wide web" networks of forests and trees

An inspiring excerpt:

"I find hope in a bee colony and a leaf on a tree and the way that the sand moves with the water and how the ecosystem interacts with different keystone species. And understanding nature gives me hope because there are so many examples of success out there. Everything that's around us, everything that surrounds us is the secret to our survival. From the tiniest bee and leaf and organism like bacteria to hawks and birds and the way that mountains move, it's incredible to me. I'm constantly amazed by the genius of nature, and I think tapping into that curiosity and being fueled by that curiosity is something that keeps me going on a day-to-day basis." - Lily Urmann

Resources mentioned in this interview 

More about the Biomimicry Center from Lily

“The Biomimicry Center recently finalized a complete remodel of our ~2000 s.f. space, as a classroom, office, and showcase. We have designed the space biomimetically ("inspired by nature"), seeking to feature the most sustainable products for the built environment that meet our design needs.

"From using only PureBond plywood that is based on the life-friendly chemistry of a Blue Mussel, to WalaLights circadian rhythm lighting (and everything in between), we are one of the only biomimetic office spaces in the world.

"The core concept of biomimicry is emulating nature’s strategies and the deep patterns that govern the natural world, known as Life’s Principles. The Biomimicry Center used these Principles as a guide throughout the remodel process to create an office space that, among other things, consumes less energy and material, adapts to changing conditions in order to accommodate a wide variety of activities, and uses life-friendly chemistry. The result: a space that is beautiful, healthy, and sustainable.

"You can explore our space virtually and learn more about each element of the design here:

"I also post some interesting content to the Biomimicry Center Instagram (videos and images of biomimicry examples and research that is happening at ASU): @thebiomimicrycenter

"The Biomimicry Institute is the nonprofit that focuses on outreach and education, and they have a lot of great resources for anyone interested in diving deeper into biomimicry.

"Anyone can also feel free to reach out to me if they would like to connect!" Connect with Lily at lilyurmann[at]gmail[dot]com.

Thank you for watching and reading! I hope to interview more of my inspiring, world-changing friends soon. If you enjoyed this video, please let me know with a comment or an email.

Green Gal