Biomimetic SmartSurfaces

Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems sustainably. Scientific and engineering literature often uses the term Biomimetics for the process of understanding and applying biological principles to human designs. This includes biomaterials, biomechanics, biological systems composed of individuals of one species (e.g., schools, herds and swarms), or multispecies ensembles. In simple terms, it is when artists, designers, architects and engineers make contraptions that mimic what an organism does.

SmartSurfaces offered a collaborative, project-based learning experience in which undergraduate artists, designers, architects and engineers came together to build structural surfaces that have the capability to adapt to information and environmental conditions.

The course was broken into two phases: an introductory skill-building phase, and the final project. For the first part of the course, participants focused on problem and constraint definition, structured brainstorming and trying new tools. The rest of the semester focused on the production of a fully-realized, funded, project. Both phases relied on multidisciplinary, collaborative teams to carry out the assignments and projects. Where possible, learning involved collaborative problem solving through experimentation.

Each team was required to design, build, program and test a ‘Biomimetic SmartSurface’ that takes inspiration from nature and also makes use of:
• Microcontroller programming
• Parametric modeling
• Digital fabrication

Task 1 - Designing a smart surface – Form, Function, Behavior

Task 2 - Solar Tracking Biomimetic Smart Surface

Task 3 - Team Design

Task 4 - Biomimetic Smart Surface

The teams had to consider and negotiate what makes a surface smart, and why we would be interested in copying nature to try to solve human problems:

Team 1: Neural Window Reef

This installation is a platform for the communal interaction of automated robots that observe and respond to activity in their environment. These robots reside in small clusters that can wirelessly communicate with neighboring clusters to tell them about real-time environmental conditions. In response to changing conditions, the robots come alive through flexing and luminescence.

Bethany Glesner, MATSCIE
Jason Prasad, MATSCIE
Alex Carmichael, ARCH
Joyce Tseng, ARCH
Jim Christian, A&D
Chris Parker, A&D

Team 2: Wall of Leaves

Our surface consists of many panels with geometries designed to transmit and reflect light to give the illusion of leaves blowing in the wind. When the top panels are rotated, the result is a cascade of rotating panels in which each panel's motion is activated by the panel above it. This effect is triggered by motion and proximity.

Diana Goulding, MATSCIE
Christopher Sketch, MATSCIE
Patrick Ethen, ARCH
Simon Rolka, ARCH
Betsy Cordes, A&D
Daniel Connors, A&D

Team 3: Ferro-field

Ferro-field is a elongated table-like structure which uses electromagnets to manipulate ferrofluid. A magnetic field is created in response to the user's presence and a simple wave of the arm causes a rippling effect across the fluid.

Melany Mioduszewski, MATSCIE
Josiah Cornett, MATSCIE
Mo Harmon, ARCH
Keegan Schreider, MATSCIE
Carlo Lorenzetti, A&D
Ekta Shah, A&D

Team 4:  Firefly Cloud

Various types of LEDs diffusely illuminate a wall comprised of straws. Mimicking a swarm of fireflies, the lights flee and evade according to motion detection. The soft texture generated by the straws, in concert with ‘moving’ LEDs, offers a unique visual experience and gives users the childhood feeling of playing with fireflies.

Steven Madsen, MATSCIE
Kevin Yien, MATSCIE
Chris Niswander, ARCH
Jordan Stoewsand-Kryscio, ARCH
Mallory Baran, A&D
Michael Theodore, A&D

Team 4 is supported by the ThingM Seed Program.


Mallory Baran

Mallory Baran is a senior at the School of Art and Design with a focus in product design.  She is interested in creating more sustainable pieces and fusing science and technology into products. She studied abroad for a semester during her junior year at Listaháskóli Íslands (Iceland Academy of the Arts) in Reykjavík, Iceland. She managed to survive the volcanic explosion and the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökul and is back in Michigan ready to collaborate with engineers, architects, and other designers.

Alex Carmichael

Alex is currently a senior at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  His primary academic interests range from design to  parametric relationships, 3D modeling and digital fabrication.  By taking this course he hopes to gain new perspectives on collaborative design and the use of digital fabrication in streamlining the design process.  Alex also believes that the creative potential of a multidisciplinary think-tank extends far beyond that of any individual effort.

Jim Christian

Jim Christian is in his fourth year of a Joint Degree between the School of Art & Design and the College of Mechanical Engineering.  As such, he is interested in the creative design process.  Outside of class, Jim is researching design space navigation under the guidance of the Design Science program.  As a member of this class, Jim searches to understand and transform interdisciplinary studies.  He feels that group work offers the opportunity to think both creatively and analytically.  This collaborative environment thereby provides a multitude of perspectives from which to view the world.  The common perspective of this class is biomimetics, which Jim finds to be beautifully complex, mysterious, and relevant.

Dan Connors

Dan Connors is a junior. He's enrolled in SmartSurfaces as an Art & Design student. He's majoring in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering and minoring in A&D. He loves math and science but needed to address his creative side, and would major in Art & Design were it not for how much he would miss math and science were he to stop taking classes therein. He saw a flyer for this class in the Art & Architecture Building and immediately decided he needed to take it, because it seemed an excellent juxtaposition of his interests in engineering and art as well as a fascinating experiment in teamwork and mixing learning styles. He finds it exciting and coincidental that this year's theme is biomimicry, as it was the focus of his research and projects in his CFC class last semester. He's really excited to think with his hands and learn how to make cool things (although he isn't entirely sure just what).

Betsy Cordes

Betsy Cordes is a senior in the School of Art & Design with a specialization in jewelry design and metalsmithing.  Graphic design has also been a focus of hers.  Betsy has completed her minor in Spanish and studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain.  This past summer she held an internship at an organic farm and then a rainforest conservatory in Puerto Rico.  She has taken a few environmental classes here at U of M and has a strong interest in biomimicry and how we can design smarter, more sustainable objects by drawing upon the inherent successes of nature.  She is excited to take an interdisciplinary course and come up with some great project ideas with the help of the other members of her group.

Josiah Cornett

Josiah Cornett came to the University of Michigan in 2008 with a passion for materials science that was greatly fueled by his readings from Peter Forbes' book, "The Gecko's Foot." Now a senior, he feels that his taking this class in Biomimetic SmartSurfaces is, in a way, returning to his roots. Josiah is a very active student both on and off campus, holding executive roles in campus professional societies such as the Michigan Materials Society and the Society for Automotive Engineers. He firmly believes that his greatest strengths lie not in himself, but in the teams he works with.

Patrick Ethen

Bethany Glesner

Bethany is a senior studying materials science & engineering and has been performing research on ceramic nanopowders with Prof. Laine since 2007.  The hands-on nature of the research is what sparked her interest in materials and allowed her to explore many applications of materials.  Besides wanting more experience designing and building Bethany is also interested in the interdisciplinary aspects of this course because she wants a creative way to explore engineering.

Diana Goulding

Diana Goulding is a senior in Materials Science and Engineering. In the future, she hopes to study biodegradable materials, particularly those that could potentially decrease the amount of trash generated each year. She signed up for SmartSurfaces because it addresses her interests in materials, the environment, and hands-on applications. She is also interested in the psychological component – learning how people think in different ways, and seeing how those ways of thinking mesh when people work together. Over the summer Diana completed an internship at Sandia National Laboratories in Carlsbad, NM, during which she gained valuable laboratory experience while becoming more independent and self-confident. Outside of classes, Diana is involved in the Michigan Materials Society, Alpha Sigma Mu, and oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Mo Harmon

Mo Harmon is a senior architecture student at the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning. His study of architecture thus far has made him see the value and necessity of interdisciplinary work.  As the lone architecture student in his group this semester, Mo hopes to bring a sensitivity to the space created in designs. His interest in technically proficient function and artistic design hopes to find beneficial compromise between ambitions. He has taken electives in advanced digital modeling throughout his architecture education and hopes this will bring extra value to his design team this semester.  After graduating, Mo plans to attend graduate school and receive a Masters Degree in architecture. In his further studies and professional career he will continue to pursue his interest in interdisciplinary design.

Carlo Lorenzetti

Carlo Lorenzetti is a third year student in the school of Art and Design.  Set to receive his BFA later next year, he studies ceramics, object design and digital fabrication.

Steven Madsen

Steven Madsen is a senior in the Materials Science and Engineering department. He just completed an internship with ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel corporation. He is interested in learning about sustainability in design and how it can be applied at an industrial scale.  Steven looks forward to learning to learning from people with different backgrounds and hopes to learn to view problem solving from a different perspective.

Melany Mioduszewski

Melany Mioduszewski is a senior in Materials Science and Engineering. She is taking SmartSurfaces because it offers the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team on a project that will be seen to completion.

Chris Niswander

Chris Niswander is a senior architecture student at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He took this class because he loves opportunities to work with others on one single project, especially students from other disciplines. Chris is interested in how advances in technology affect the processes through which we design, as well as what it allows us to create. In taking this class, he looks forward to learning and seeing things from new perspectives. He hopes that this will allow him to take these new experiences and apply them to his interests in the field of architectural design.

Chris Parker

Jason Prasad

Jason is studying Materials Science and Engineering.  He chose to partake in SmartSurfaces to witness creativity grow in a diverse disciplinary setting and to get his hands dirty and mind busy in the design process.

Simon Rolka

Simon Rolka is an architecture student who's inspired by people and technology. As a senior, understanding the innovation of ideas is a recent albeit strong focus of his work. Initially in college physics and psychology were promising academic interests as they both helped describe the physical and social world at atomic levels. He's found a synthesis of the two in architecture and is eager to expand his skill-set through interdisciplinary projects, such as Smart Surfaces. Interest in 'making' as a form of thought and conversation has been an exhilarating outlet of language. He hopes to make and talk with as many disciplines care to share.

Keegan Schrider

Keegan Schrider is a senior in Materials Science and Engineering. His fascination with the characteristics of objects around him and the most basic reasons for their behavior led him inexorably to study MSE at Michigan. His interests lie primarily in electronics. As the information revolution races on, a positive understanding of the materials industry supporting it and the constant room for new developments is too enticing to ignore.

Ekta Shah

Ekta Shah is a junior at the School of Art and Design. She is also studying in Program in the environment, with a specialization in ecology and evolutionary biology.  She wants to explore biomimicry as a way to bridge the gap between her two interests, while also helping solve current environmental issues. Ekta is interested in interdisciplinary projects that involve ideas and problem solving skills from different backgrounds.

Chris Sketch

Chris is a senior in materials science and engineering.  He is taking smart surfaces, because he wants to learn how to be more creative.  He can't wait to physically design a device after years of reading books about them and knows that he can learn a lot from watching how others approach problems in a world where equations can't always make it all better.  He is excited about this class because he understands the collective brain power of three different fields and a lot of lost sleep can accomplish almost anything.  Outside of school, he spends his time working in R&D on exhaust catalysis and nanomaterials

Jordan Stoewsand-Kryscio

I'm a senior at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. I'm enrolled in a joint-degree program with Architecture and Program in the Environment. My primary interests include the role of technology in sustainable design, parametric modeling, digital fabrication, representation, and mathematics. One of my biggest sources of inspiration is Buckminster Fuller, who understood the architect as a "design scientist" that adheres to a methodology, not a discipline. He was also one of the initial and most prominent advocates of biomimicry. When I learned about SmartSurfaces, it seemed to be class-based embodiment of many of the principles Fuller adhered to. That, in addition to the use of emerging technologies and practices in the field of architecture and design made SmartSurfaces the perfect fit for me.

Michael Theodore

Joyce Tseng

Joyce is a senior at TCAUP. She is interested in graphic design, government housing, and futbol. She is taking SmartSurfaces for its interdisciplinary appeal.

Kevin Yien

I am a senior studying Materials Science & Engineering. I am taking Smart Surfaces because of the opportunity it posed; not only a chance to work with brilliant minds from other disciplines, but also a chance to enhance my own creativity.  I believe getting a chance to see the same things through others’ perspectives is invaluable.  In addition, I will be able to see how the design process flows from beginning to end, while being able to actually build something.


2010 - Thorsten Klooster

Thorsten Klooster is an architect in Berlin and the editor of the book 'Smart Surfaces: and their Application in Architecture and Design'. He has worked on the planning, detailing and construction administration of several projects, including residential, commercial and public buildings. He has been part of the team of the DFG Research Group for Technical Sciences at Fraunhofer-Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK in Berlin. In 2007 he established TASK Architekten, based in Berlin. His current work is on display at the Architecture Forum Aedes Berlin. From 2002 to 2007, he taught design at the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus and has been guest critic, public lecturer and expert at several schools and institutions in Germany and abroad, including at the IBA Hamburg 2013, Academy Solitude Palace Stuttgart and IUAV Venice. One of his research areas is New Materials, with an emphasis on functional surfaces. Since 2009, together with the artist Heike Klussmann, he has headed the working group “BlingCrete” at the University of Kassel, which is devoted to the development of new materials concepts. One emphasis is on the functional design of concrete surfaces. Along with architecture and art, “BlingCrete” unites expertise from the areas of product design, materials technology, and nanotechnology. It is promoted by the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations AiF e.V. (funding agency).

2010 - Geoffrey Mann

Geoffrey Mann is a Scottish artist, designer and lecturer whose fascination with transposing the ephemeral nature of time and motion has created a studio practice that challenges the existing divides between art, craft and design. He has exhibited in National and International venues including MoMA New York; International Bombay Sapphire Awards, London and Milan, Jerwood Contemporary Makers exhibition, MAD New York and the European Glass Context in Denmark. In 2008, Mann was awarded the World Craft Council Prize for Glass and in 2009 won the Jerwood Contemporary Makers Prize. Mann has work included in MoMA New York, Design and Architecture collection and MAD New York, Design and Applied permanent collections.

2009-10 - Eugene Shteyn

Eugene Shteyn holds twenty-five US patents and is a named inventor on more than forty patents pending (in software architecture, digital entertainment, Internet services, nanotechnology, and other areas). Shteyn develops inventions and identifies potential markets for technology transfer and intellectual property licensing in the clean energy industry. Previously he was Director of IP Licensing at Hewlett-Packard, a principal scientist at Philips Research Silicon Valley, an innovation consultant for Roche, and an inventor for Intellectual Ventures. Much of his work is represented in high tech products and industry standards. Shteyn has received degrees in mechanical engineering and computer science. Eugene is Director of Invention Development at Ambature (a company founded in 2007 for the purpose of developing technologies that can significantly improve the efficiency of electrical energy generation, distribution and usage). He also teaches courses in Invention and Innovation at Stanford University.