This paper presents research on the use of an engineering-to-biology thesaurus in an engineering classroom as an aid to teaching biomimicry. The leap from engineering to biological science has posed a challenge. Engineers often struggle with how to best use the vast amount of biological information available from the natural world around them. Often there is a knowledge gap, and terminology takes different meanings. Generally, the time required to learn and become fluent in biology poses too large a hurdle. The engineering-to-biology thesaurus was designed to allow engineers without advanced biological knowledge to leverage nature’s ingenuity during engineering design. The three key goals of this thesaurus are to (1) lessen the burden when working with knowledge from the biological domain by providing a link between engineering and biological terminology; (2) assist designers with establishing connections between the two domains; and (3) to facilitate biologically-inspired design.
In this paper, the results of a pilot study as well as a second study are presented. The pilot study was used to craft instructional materials involving the engineering-to-biology thesaurus. In the second study, sophomore engineering students enrolled in a design course were given a design task to complete using the thesaurus. The task focused on biomimetic concept development for their course project — designing a human-powered vehicle for a person with cerebral palsy. Results of the design task are presented.