On a chilly Tuesday morning, Karen Allen, owner of the Bend consulting firm Aequinox, held up a nautilus shell to explain how the spiral pattern can be used to move millions of gallons of water with less energy.

“It can move 7 million gallons on the energy of a lightbulb,” Allen said. “This spiral geometry moves fluids very efficiently, so why haven’t we emulated that?”

The specific example comes from the California company PAX Water Technologies, which manufactures impellers for water storage tanks, but the approach is part of a relatively new but growing discipline known as biomimicry.

The discipline is a challenge to define, but Allen, the only certified biomimicry professional in Bend, said it emphasizes looking to nature to solve human problems, encompassing disciplines that include architecture, agriculture, energy, industrial design, medicine, transportation and other disciplines.

Whether the challenges are figuring out how to sequester carbon or build a more efficient ceiling fan, Allen emphasized that the answers can be found in the natural world, if one knows where to look.

“Life has been on the planet for 3.85 billion years,” Allen said. “Chances are, other creatures have solved for the same challenges we’re trying to solve for.”

Allen, trained as a biologist and a restoration ecologist, picked up an early book on biomimicry in the late ’90s. The book, written by Janine Benyus, co-founder of the nonprofit Biomimicry 3.8, inspired Allen to learn more about the emerging discipline.

“Biomimicry ushers in an era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her,” wrote Benyus on Biomimicry 3.8’s website.

Allen eventually got her biomimicry certification through a masters of science program operated by Biomimicry 3.8 and Arizona State University’s online program, for which she now teaches biology classes.

Additionally, she worked on a project for the city of Boulder, Colorado, that involved researching designs from organisms like dragonflies that would allow engineers to resurface a mountain road without asphalt.

She assumed the name Aequinox as a sole proprietor in 2008, and today her consulting business is roughly split between habitat restoration and biomimicry.

While the two disciplines seem distinct, Allen said both focus on looking to the natural world for solutions.

While she would not provide a specific number, Allen said she has worked with dozens of clients at Aequinox. Current clients include the U.S. Forest Service and small private product designers. Clients will come to Aequinox with architectural or product design issues, and Allen provides support and knowledge regarding where and how to inject biology into a project.

“I’m a biologist. I can help translate the biology,” Allen said. “But when it comes to moving a design concept forward, that’s where the engineers and the product designers, that’s where they need to get involved.”

She added that one of the challenges of biomimicry was teaching people to put its concepts into practice. One of the requirements of the biomimicry certification is for students to attend six in-person seminars, in locations ranging from Arizona to Botswana.

“People are really excited about this discipline,” Allen said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the description of the project for Boulder, Colorado, was incorrect.

The Bulletin regrets the error.

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