This group will provide an environment where biological inspiration can be used to develop approaches to address grand challenges."
Events & Announcements

Biologically Motivated Symposium

April 29, 2016 | 12:30-5:30 p.m. | Northrop Auditorium, Best Buy Theater

Biologically Motivated


“Biologically Motivated” seeks to pose new questions and solve problems by looking to the diverse ways that organisms adapt and survive. This interdisciplinary graduate group brings together students from the College of Biological Sciences with students from the School of Architecture in the College of Design and the Department of Art within the College of Liberal Arts. We anticipate that this initial group will expand to engage with engineering and computer science students and faculty, as well as other groups interested in using bio-inspired approaches. In bringing together these diverse fields, this group hopes to provide an opportunity for students of biology, design, and art to learn from and engage with potential peer collaborators from diverse disciplinary backgrounds.

Blaine BrownelThis group will provide an environment where biological inspiration can be used to develop approaches to address grand challenges. This interdisciplinary graduate group will initially use discussion groups and symposia to link students and faculty between biology, architecture and art. We will build on existing courses within each field to design interdisciplinary, collaborative courses where faculty and staff from all three disciplines can work together using bio-inspired approaches in design. Eventually, we would like to see a clear structure of various courses forming the curriculum for an interdisciplinary degree program.


The primary contact for this group is Blaine Brownell (School of Architecture; Additional members of the leadership team are Emilie Snell-Rood (Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; and Diane Willow (Department of Art;


View the membership list.  


News and Events

Biologically Motivated Symposium  |  REGISTER HERE

A symposium exploring future connections between biology, art, and architecture

April 29, 2016 | 12:30-5:30 p.m. | Northrop Auditorium, Best Buy Theater

Fields from architecture and art to engineering and nanotechnology are increasingly looking to biology for inspiration. Strategies such as biomimicry and biodesign have produced electronic screen designs based on butterfly wing scales and gecko-inspired adhesives, pavilions constructed from mycological bricks, and aerial art installations derived from organic structures. Given the 1.5 million described species on earth, there is a vast repository of knowledge that can inform future bio-based research and design. However, spanning these diverse fields comes with challenges. How do researchers from disparate backgrounds communicate effectively? How can varied disciplinary perspectives expand the questions that we ask? What are the most productive approaches to biology-based interdisciplinary collaborations? How can students structure interdisciplinary learning within a discipline-focused curriculum? Join us for a half-day symposium exploring and discussing these ideas with three pioneers in the fields of biology, art, and architecture.

Best Buy Theater, Northrop Hall, The University of Minnesota
84 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455

12:30 - 1:00: Refreshments
1:00 - 2:00 Jeff Karp, Harvard University [Biology]
2:00 - 3:00 Amy Youngs, The Ohio State University [Art]
3:00 - 3:30 Coffee Break
3:30 - 4:30 David Benjamin, Columbia University [Architecture]
4:30 - 5:30 Panel Discussion


Jeff Karp
Associate Professor, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University Medical School
Principal Faculty at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute

Dr. Jeff Karp is an Associate Professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and is Principal Faculty at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and affiliate faculty at MIT through the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Karp's research harnesses materials science and stem cell biology to solve medical problems with emphasis on nanoscale/microscale materials and bio-inspired approaches. Several technologies that Dr. Karp has developed have formed the foundation for multiple products on the market and currently under development and for the launch of two companies, Gecko Biomedical and Skintifique. In 2011 the Boston Business Journal recognized Dr. Karp as a Champion in Healthcare Innovation. Two years later the Institute for Chemical Engineers (IChemE) honored one of his technologies as the Most Innovative Product of the Year. In 2008 MIT’s Technology Review Magazine (TR35) also recognized Dr. Karp as being one of the top innovators in the world under the age of 35. He has received the Society for Biomaterials Young Investigator Award and his work has been selected as one of Popular Mechanic’s “Top 20 New Biotech Breakthroughs that Will Change Medicine.” Dr. Karp was also elected in 2013 to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering’s College of Fellows and as a Kavli Fellow.

Amy Youngs
Associate Professor of Art, The Ohio State University

Amy M. Youngs creates biological art, interactive sculptures and digital media works that explore relationships between technology and animals—human and non-human. Research interests include: interactions with plants and animals, technological nature follies, constructed ecosystems and seeing through the eyes of machines. She has created installations that amplify the sounds and movements of living worms, indoor ecosystems that grow edible plants, a multi-channel interactive video sculpture for a science museum, as well as videos and community media projects. Youngs has exhibited her works nationally and internationally at venues such as the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand, the Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre in Norway, the Biennale of Electronic Arts in Australia, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Spain and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. She was awarded an Ohio Arts Council grant for her work and has published articles in Leonardo and Antennae. Her work has been profiled in the books such as, Art in Action, Nature, Creativity & our Collective Future. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is an Associate Professor of Art at the Ohio State University, where she teaches new media and eco art courses.

David Benjamin
Assistant Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Principal, The Living

David Benjamin is Principal of The Living and Assistant Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The Living explores the architecture of the future, bringing new technologies to life in the built environment. The experimental practice approaches cities and buildings as living, breathing organisms, and proposes that design be a living, breathing ecosystem. Within this design ecosystem, Benjamin works on multiple scales simultaneously and embraces design with uncertainty, design with rules rather than fixed forms, and design with shifting and unknowable forces. The Living clients include the City of New York, Airbus, 3M, Quantified Self, and Miami Science Museum. Recent projects include the Princeton Architecture Laboratory (a new building for research on robotics and next-generation design and construction technologies), Hy-Fi (a branching tower in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 created with almost no waste, no energy, and no carbon emissions), Pier 35 EcoPark (a 200-foot floating pier in the East River that changes color according to water quality), and Architecture Bio-synthesis (a new process of bio-computation and bio-manufacturing to produce high-performance, sustainable materials through synthetic biology).