Fish Gill-Inspired Design Wins 1st Prize in Biomimicry Design Competition


“It’s amazing that by studying a fish gill, this team created a design that could impact water infrastructure on a world-wide scale.”

Inspired by fish gills, newt tadpoles, and human arteries, a team of civil engineering graduate students from the University of Toronto developed a design that could increase water delivery efficiency, decrease water-borne illness, and lower wastewater operating costs. The team won first prize in the first round of the Biomimicry Student Design Challenge, organized by the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute.

“We asked students to look at how nature deals with water access and management and apply that knowledge to solve a human design problem,” said Megan Schuknecht, director of university education at the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute. “It’s amazing that by studying a fish gill, this team created a design that could impact water infrastructure on a world-wide scale. The Challenge judges were wowed by their ingenuity and the positive effect this design could have on urban water distribution systems.”

In tackling water management, the civil engineering students focused on the challenge that air entrapment plays in the operation of a pipeline system. If not managed effectively, the release of compressed air within a pipeline can be explosive, and surges in pressure can cause fractures and ultimately lead to water loss. Cracks within pipelines also allow for the infiltration of pollutants, a known cause of water-borne epidemics around the globe.

Their challenge then, was to find a more efficient design for releasing entrapped air from water pipeline systems.

“We looked back and forth between water management issues we were most concerned about and organisms for inspiration until we found an ideal match: a current need that could be solved by nature’s ingenuity” said Rebecca Dziedzic, member of the University of Toronto team. “Fish rely on separating oxygen from water in order to breathe. When we looked closely at gills, we realized that the design principles applied by these organisms could be replicated, creating an efficient, adaptable, and multifunctional device.”

The University of Toronto team will receive $2,500 for their first place design. Second place prize of $1,000 will be awarded to a team from Artesis University College Antwerp in Belgium for their “Time Capsule” design, which uses evaporative cooling inspired by the honeybee to keep fruits and vegetables fresh at minimal cost and with minimal water use. Third place prize and $500 will go to Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, for their “Fog Farming Dynamic System,” which allows farmers to cultivate plants in the Atacama Desert environment by combining existing fog-capture technology with a unique planting pattern. A special $1,000 award from Autodesk will go to the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Mexico, for their use of resources on the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop website to minimize the environmental impact of their design.

Biomimicry 3.8 Institute staff and a panel of designers, scientists, engineers, and business leaders judged the design challenge proposals according to the teams’ understanding and application of biomimicry, solution creativity, potential for impact, presentation quality, team collaboration, and Life’s Principles (design lessons from nature).

In the next and final round of competition, the three winning teams, as well as select teams with promising proposals, will take their designs closer to development and implementation. These teams will receive live mentoring from StartupNectar, a biomimicry business incubator, and will refine their designs for consideration in the competition’s $10,000 Grand Prize and $1,000 People’s Choice Award. Those awards will be given at the Institute’s annual Biomimicry Education Summit and Global Conference, to be held in Boston, MA, June 21-23, 2013.

See Also

The design competition launched in September 2012 and attracted 68 entries from teams located in 14 US states and 18 countries. Abstracts from every design proposal that was submitted are available on

The Biomimicry Student Design Challenge is sponsored by David Oakey Designs and Autodesk.

* Biomimicry 3.8 will be offering a special discount on our Introduction to Biomimicry course for 24 hours, beginning Monday, February 25. The course is normally $99 but will be discounted to $38 for that day only.

via Biomimicry 3.8 Institute

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