The study of biomimicry and sustainable design promises great benefits in design applications, offering cost-effective, resourceful, non-polluting avenues for new enterprise. An important final caveat for students to understand is that once copied, species are not expendable. Biomimicry is intended to help people by identifying natural functions from which to pattern human-driven services. Biomimicry was never intended to replace species. Ecosystems remain in critical need of ongoing protection and biodiversity must be preserved for the overall health of the planet. This activity addresses the negative ramifications of species decline. For example, pollinators such as bees are a vital work force in agriculture. They perform an irreplaceable task in ensuring the harvest of most fruit and vegetable crops. In the face of the unexplained colony collapse disorder, we are only now beginning to understand how invaluable these insects are in keeping food costs down and even making the existence of these foods possible for humans.
High School Ecology
With a continued focus on the Sonoran Desert, students are introduced to the concepts of biomes, limiting factors (resources), carrying capacity and growth curves through a PowerPoint® presentation. Abiotic factors (temperature, annual precipitation, seasons, etc.) determine the biome landscape. The vegetative component, as producers, determines the types of consumers that form its various communities. Students learn how the type and quantity of available resources defines how many organisms can be supported within the community, as well as its particular resident species. Students use mathematical models of natural relationships (in this case, sigmoid and exponential growth curves) to analyze population information and build upon it. With this understanding, students are able to explain how carrying capacity is determined by the limiting factors within the community and feeding relationships. By studying these ecological relationships, students see the connection between ecological relationships of organisms and the fundamentals of engineering design, adding to their base of knowledge towards solving the grand challenge posed in this unit.
Students are introduced to the concepts of biomimicry and sustainable design. Countless examples illustrate the wisdom of nature in how organisms are adapted for survival, such as in body style, physiological processes, water conservation, thermal radiation and mutualistic relationships, to assure species perpetuation. Students learn from articles and videos, building a framework of evidence substantiating the indisputable fact that organisms operate "smarter" and thus provide humans with inspiration in how to improve products, systems and cities. As students focus on applying the ecological principles of the previous lessons to the future design of our human-centered world, they also learn that often our practices are incapable of replicating the precision in which nature completes certain functions, as evidenced by our dependence on bees as pollinators of the human food supply. The message of biomimicry is one of respect: study to improve human practices and ultimately protect natural systems. This heightened appreciation helps students to grasp the value of industry and urban mimetic designs to assure protection of global resources, minimize human impact and conserve nonrenewable resources. All of these issues aid students in creating a viable guest resort in the Sonoran Desert.
Students are challenged to design a method for separating steel from aluminum based on magnetic properties as is frequently done in recycling operations. To complicate the challenge, the magnet used to separate the steel must be able to be switched off to allow for the recollection of the steel. Students must ultimately design, test, and present an effective electromagnet.
The computer program's simulation of a Sonoran desert community should ultimately strengthen the student's comprehension of what is required for a natural ecosystem to sustain itself (remain in balance). This computer simulation program has great flexibility. It allows the student to manipulate the population numbers of five Sonoran Desert species. A species natural history attachment provides vital information for the students to familiarize themselves with each species' behaviors, its niche and food resource needs. The program includes two producers, the Saguaro cactus and the Ironwood Tree. It also includes 3 consumers, but their interactions both toward the producers and each other differ. The community's ability to remain in balance and sustain all five species so that none die out rests on the student's assessment skills enabling him to correctly identify these dependencies. The student learns by trial and error as he continues to fine tune the ecosystem that he maintains stewardship of.
Students are challenged to design a permanent guest village within the Saguaro National Park in Arizona. The design must provide a true desert experience to visitors while emphasizing sustainable design, protection of the natural environment, and energy and resource conservation. To successfully address and respond to this challenge, students must acquire an understanding of desert ecology, environmental limiting factors, species adaptations and resource utilization. Following theintroduction, students generate ideas and consider the knowledge required to complete the challenge. The lectures and activities that follow serve to develop this level of comprehension. To introduce the concepts of healthy ecosystems, biomimetics and the importance of sustainable environmental design, students watch three video clips of experts. These clips provide direction for student research and challenge design solutions.
With a continued focus on the Sonoran Desert, students are introduced to the concepts of food chains and food webs through a PowerPoint® presentation. They learn the difference between producers and consumers and study how these organisms function within their communities as participants in various food chains. They further understand ecosystem differences by learning how multiple food chains link together to form intricate and balanced food webs. At lesson end, students construct food webs using endemic desert species.
During a scavenger hunt and an art project, students learn how to use a handheld GPS receiver for personal navigation. Teachers can request assistance from the Institute of Navigation to find nearby members with experience in using GPS and in locating receivers to use.
Students explore heat transfer and energy efficiency using the context of energy efficient houses. They gain a solid understanding of the three types of heat transfer: radiation, convection and conduction, which are explained in detail and related to the real world. They learn about the many ways solar energy is used as a renewable energy source to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses and operating costs. Students also explore ways in which a device can capitalize on the methods of heat transfer to produce a beneficial result. They are given the tools to calculate the heat transferred between a system and its surroundings.
Students learn about geotechnical engineers and their use of physical properties, such as soil density, to determine the ability of various soils to offer support to foundations. In an associated activity, students determine the bulk densities of soil samples, and assess their suitability to support foundations.
Students determine the mass and volume of soil samples and calculate the density of the soils. They use this information to determine the suitability of the soil to support a building foundation.
Students become familiar with the online Renewable Energy Living Lab interface and access its real-world solar energy data to evaluate the potential for solar generation in various U.S. locations. They become familiar with where the most common sources of renewable energy are distributed across the U.S. Through this activity, students and teachers gain familiarity with the living lab's GIS graphic interface and query functions, and are exposed to the available data in renewable energy databases, learning how to query to find specific information for specific purposes. The activity is intended as a "training" activity prior to conducting activities such as The Bright Idea activity, which includes a definitive and extensive end product (a feasibility plan) for students to create.
Students build on their understanding and feel for flow rates, as gained from the associated Faucet Flow Rate activity, to estimate the flow rate of a local river. The objective is to be able to relate laboratory experiment results to the environment. They use the U.S. Geological Survey website (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rt) to determine the actual flow rate data for their river, and compare their estimates to the actual flow rate. For this activity to be successful, choose a nearby river and take a field trip or show a video so students gain a visual feel for the flow of the nearby river.
Prior to reaching households, water is exposed to a variety of treatments designed to render it fit for human consumption and use. One of the first treatment steps is the removal of suspended solids using chemical additives called flocculants. In this activity, students learn about two commonly used flocculants and clean water collected from a local pond or river. They experiment with flocculant, stirring and pH variables.