“A system is never the sum of its parts, it’s the product of their interactions” – Russell Ackoff
Millions of years of research and development have resulted in many brilliant biological solutions to human problems. The methods by which biotic systems reach their environmentally sustainable state and their ability to survive unexpected disturbances we hypothesize can support engineering systems. The specific aim of the research done in the Bio-inspired Sustainable Systems Lab (BiSSL) is to provide solutions to engineering systems problems that result in cost savings, increased efficiency and resilience, and reductions of environmental burdens. The results of our work supports the view that these goals don’t need to be achieved at the expense of each other: i.e. you can have it all!
You can hear about applying bio-inspired design to improve the resilience of power grids with Texas A&M Engineering’s podcast SoundBytes Season 1 Episode 29. And read about it on ASME’s website “How the Food Web Can Keep the Electricity Flowing.”
You can learn about how inspiration from the way ecological food webs function is helping to suggest route for improving our recycling/reuse/waste economy with Texas A&M Engineering’s podcast SoundBytes Season 1 Episode 28.
You can learn more about our search to define sustainability/resilience design guidelines using biological food webs in Texas A&M Engineering News’ article “Following nature’s cue, researchers build successful, sustainable industrial networks” by Vandana Suresh (April 26, 2021)
Environmentally Benign Manufacturing as defined by the National Science Foundation in 2001 is “a system of goals, metrics, technologies, and business practices that address the long-term dilemma for product realization: how to achieve economic growth while protecting the environment” (Thurston, Gutowski et al. 2001). This definition remains relevant in current NSF discussions around the “Future of Manufacturing.” Simultaneously, events of the last few decades have shown a worrying increase in major environmental/social/health disruptions. We need systems-based solutions, requiring a comprehensive systems approach e.g. the product’s design is formed in conjunction with its logistical systems and reuse possibilities, while factoring in flexibility for disruptions. Clearly, this raises the level of design complexity. A framework for such a systems-based approach to balance sustainability and resilience goals is needed.
History has proven that nature can offer directly transferable or innovative inspiration for human problems. This is well known in the form of bio-inspired product designs but still rare for networks/systems design. The methods by which biotic systems reach their environmentally sustainable and resilient state we hypothesize can support the design of sustainable and resilient systems. The work in our BiSSL group has demonstrated that ecosystem characteristics can lead to environmental and resilience improvements at multiple scales. Our goal is to move ideas from biology to human systems design in such a way that they become real, implementable design tools and guidelines. We have a track record of design-focused research that addresses sustainability & resilience needs for human systems such as power grids, water distribution networks, supply chains, systems of systems (SoS), cyber-physical systems, industrial resource networks, net zero communities, and the circular economy.
Dr. Rich Malak, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University
Dr. Ahmed Ali, Department of Architecture, Texas A&M University
Dr. Kate Davis, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Texas A&M University
Dr. Kirk Winemiller, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Texas A&M University
Dr. Stewart Borrett, Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Dr. John Reap, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Quinnipiac University
Dr. Julie Linsey, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Cynthia Hipwell, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University
Dr. Daniel McAdams, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University
Dr. Weiling He, Department of Architecture, Texas A&M University
Dr. Robert Puckett, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University