Meet a Biomimic: Julia Chiang – Biomimicry Institute

In the time since Janine Benyus’ book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature was published in 1997, biomimicry has emerged as a thriving discipline, inspiring thousands to build their careers and lives around nature-inspired design. In a new blog series called Meet a Biomimic, we aim to introduce the individuals that make up this movement. From thought leaders to those just learning how to ‘ask nature,’ this community is full of talented, passionate, and smart innovators who are making revolutionary change in all corners of the world. Find out what drives them and how they’re working to build a more regenerative future.

Written by Leon Wang

Our next guest on the Meet a Biomimic series is Julia Chiang. Julia is from Taiwan and works as a public relations manager for an agriculture company. She spends much of her time doing outreach as the Secretary General of Biomimicry Taiwan. Some of her recent efforts have been to translate the film “Biomimicry” by Tree Media and other news for native Mandarin speakers. This is no small feat considering Mandarin is the world’s most common language with approximately 14.4% of the human population! Read on to learn more about Julia.
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What is your current job and how do you incorporate biomimicry into your work or life?

I am the Public Relations Manager at AgriDragon Biotech and also the Secretary General in Biomimicry Taiwan. My main job is to reach out about biomimicry in Taiwan as much as I can, to help spread the meme. The agriculture company I work for has developed its own irrigation system by emulating functions of the rainforest and human body.  Without using any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, we are able to achieve both good quantity and quality of crops while vitalizing the soil. Our company attributes this to nature’s wisdom. Luckily, when sharing biomimicry, I can introduce and discuss this agricultural system and vice versa. It provides a realistic and easy-to-understand example. Nature rewards cooperation, and I see my work doing outreach for Biomimicry Taiwan and AgriDragon to be an example of mutualism. In addition to my job, I am making an effort to seed the initial network for biomimicry practice in Taiwan. Our country is just starting to develop its own successful biomimicry stories. Through events and implementation on agriculture, I hope we can gradually build up a platform fit for everyone, just like nature does for the living organisms on earth.

In our culture, learning from nature is a well-known ideology. Laozi says “Humans follow the principle of Earth/ground; Earth follows the principle of Heaven/sky; Heaven follows Dao, and Dao follows the principle of Nature.”  We learned this philosophy early in our schooling, yet seldom (or forget to) adopt it when we grow up.  Now I incorporate both biomimicry and ancient philosophy into my life by asking “what would nature do and why?”

How did you get to where you are today? What paths led you to biomimicry?

One day when we were speaking to a university professor, he was amazed by the idea of AgriDragon Biotech’s agricultural system and told us this kind of concept is called 仿生 (fang sheng, which means biomimicry in Chinese). Ever since then, I looked into biomimicry and eventually stumbled upon Janine Benyus and her inspiring TED talks.

Taiwan is a small island country but with rich biodiversity.  Biomimicry seems to be so fit for Taiwan: we are surrounded by various mentors to learn from and the deep philosophy to learn from (not just about) nature actually exists in our culture.  We invited Janine to come to Taiwan not only to visit our biomimetic agriculture system but also share stories in sustainability and biomimicry from around the world to inspire our people. Luckily, this event was supported by Biotechnology Industry Study Centre of Taiwan Institute of Economic Research as well as some universities, providing us with the opportunity to get connected with some of the professors doing biomimetic projects in Taiwan.  At the end of 2014, Biomimicry Taiwan was born, and our story begins.

How are you making an impact?

Biomimicry, biomimetics, and bionic are all translated into “fang sheng (仿生)” in the Chinese language.  In Taiwan, when most people learn about the term biomimicry, they either have no idea about what it is or think it means bionic (robot, hand, leg, etc.).  After some events, communications on Facebook, and the implementation of my company’s biomimicry agriculture system, more and more people are beginning to understand the meaning of biomimicry and how it could help shape our sustainable future.  We also get some positive interest from school teachers who would like to introduce biomimicry into their classes. Some teachers and researchers already teach these concepts in their classes or are involved in biomimetic design. The establishment of Biomimicry Taiwan could be a supporting platform to help share everyone’s efforts on biomimicry to better serve more people’s needs.  Recently we translated the new film starring Janine Benyus called Biomimicry (by Tree Media, supported by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation) and added Chinese subtitles. We received positive feedback from people all over in widely different fields.  It’s still early to say we have made an impact, but we have certainly been steadily seeding and spreading the meme.

As we move forward, our approach will focus on spreading the biomimicry meme among high schools and college students by encouraging them to participate in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. In addition, we will cooperate with some organizations such as science education centers, botanical gardens, and zoos to generate exhibitions and outreach programs. The purpose is to inspire more local biomimicry applications to solve challenges in Taiwan.  I will also leverage the success in biomimetic agriculture to inspire industrial, business, and government workers to look towards nature for solutions. This example provides a clearer picture  on how biomimicry can help us achieve more sustainable industries and businesses.

What kind of people are you looking to collaborate with?

I welcome people from all areas come to us and say, hey, let’s work out something to make our society and world more sustainable — socially, environmentally and economically (and even better function like nature does). One time, a student whose major is literature came to ask about the connection between biomimicry and literature and how could she could get involved in biomimicry.  That was the moment I felt excited about the unlimited potential of interdisciplinary collaboration when embracing biomimicry.

We would love to reach more school teachers and university professors who are interested in interdisciplinary work and want to give biomimicry a try. Also, agriculture itself involves multiple disciplines and could lead to a need for very diverse teams. For example in building a greenhouse, we could involve people from life science, mechanics, chemistry, architecture, etc. And so, we are looking for people who would like to collaborate in a biomimicry agriculture project (urban or rural).

What have been some of the most helpful resources for you?

The Biomimicry Institute, AskNature, and our global networks all provide good resources and examples to learn and share. Not to mention, going outside is definitely a must-have.  Biomimicry Taiwan is a young organization and we are still building our own resource bank. In the future, we would like to have a platform through which people, especially those who speak Chinese, can connect and access relevant academic papers, R&D references, applications, and industry success stories easily.  Some ancient philosophy has also been a helpful resource for me to include in my outreach.

 

Chinese translation

你目前的工作為何? 如何將仿生的概念融入工作或生活中?

身為「台灣仿生科技與五生產業發展協會」的秘書長,我也是興藝峰生技農業公司的公關經理。推廣仿生學(Biomimicry),讓仿生的概念在台灣開枝散葉是主要工作。我所服務的公司研發了一套台灣原創的仿生科技農法系統,從熱帶雨林盎然的生機與母親孕育生命的智慧中獲得靈感。不需要使用農藥化肥與除草劑,作物蔬果不但生長旺盛、兼具產能,亦能恢復土壤地力,而這一切都要歸功於自然的智慧。因此,在談論仿生學的應用時,仿生科技農法系統就是一個很好的實際案例,反之,當談論仿生農法時,仿生學及其他應用,就是很棒的基礎與延伸。在生命原則裡,自然獎勵互助合作,協會與公司的工作之於彼此可謂生物界的「互利共生」機制。此外,我們也在努力促成仿生科技於台灣各領域的應用。台灣正要開始建立自己的仿生成功案例,藉由一次次的擴散以及於農業上的成功應用,希望能逐步形成一個人人合宜的平台,就像地球所形成的環境,讓所有的生物能生存其中。

在我們的文化裡,人們普遍知道「向自然學習」的概念。《老子廿五章》:「人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然。」學校時期幾乎都讀過這些哲學,只是當我們漸漸長大了,鮮少(或根本忘記)將其精神內化運用於現實生活中。接觸了仿生學之後,我學著在生活中來個中西合璧,面對問題時拋出「大自然會怎麼做? 為什麼會這樣做?」來刺激思考。

甚麼樣的因緣際會讓你接觸到仿生? 現在的進展從何而來?

某一天,當我們與大學教授交流時,公司的農業系統讓他感到非常的驚艷,並且告訴我們,這其實就是「仿生」的應用。此後,我們便開始爬梳資料、嘗試了解甚麼是「仿生」,剛好看到仿生大師珍妮班亞斯在TED年會上的演講。台灣雖然面積不大,但是卻擁有豐富的生物多樣性。「仿生」似乎非常適合台灣發展,因為我們的身邊有這麼多的自然導師,而「向自然學習」的概念又是如此熟悉。因此我們邀請珍妮到台灣來,不僅是參訪台灣原創的仿生農業系統,也舉辦了國際論壇,在台灣經濟研究院生物科技產業研究中心以及幾所大學的支持下,廣邀學界、產業界、政府、研究機構等人士參與。珍妮分享了仿生學的概念以及在全球各地成功的應用於推動永續發展的案例,讓與會者深受啟發。藉由這些活動,讓我們結識了散落在台灣,也進行著仿生科技教學、研發、或專案應用的夥伴,因而促成了「台灣仿生科技與五生產業發展協會(Biomimicry Taiwan)」的成立。

如何帶來影響力?

目前在台灣,大部分聽到「仿生」的反應,不是不了解就是想到仿生手臂、仿生機器人、仿生腿,但這並不能完全代表仿生的意義。「仿生」並非僅是模仿動植物、礦物、微生物的型態或內部組織,而是理解生命所演化出的適存智慧,淬鍊出設計策略,解決人類遇到的問題。經過一次次的活動舉辦、運用facebook進行知識傳播,以及推動仿生農業的產業化,有越來越多的人開始了解「仿生」以及它能如何協助形塑永續世界。我們也獲得教育者的正面回應,希望能將仿生引入課堂中。最重要的是,原本就教授仿生課程的老師、研究仿生科技的研發人員,在這個領域努力的人,台灣仿生科技協會的建立希望能與大家一起,匯聚一個個的仿生能量,成為一個豐富的棲地,服務社會需求。最近我們將李奧納多基金會贊助拍攝、由珍妮班亞斯口述介紹的仿生學(Biomimicry)影片翻譯成中文,獲得來自各界的好評。現在說我們帶來甚麼影響力或許還太早,不過可以肯定的是我們正按部就班、一步步的擴散仿生知識與應用。例如藉由鼓勵高中以上的學生參加「全球仿生設計競賽」,讓學生實際參與仿生設計的過程,以及與教育機構(如科學教育館、動物園等)合作規劃展覽或活動,激發更多台灣在地的仿生創新。同時,我也會延伸仿生於台灣農業應用的成功案例,讓更多產業界、政府單位的工作者了解「向自然學習」,不只是個概念,也能帶來永續的商業與產業發展。


你在尋找甚麼樣的合作對象或契機?

來自各領域的人,只要跑來說,我們能否一起來想想看,如何能讓我們的社會、經濟、環境更永續,我都非常歡迎 (尤其如果加上如何讓我們的社會如大自然般的生機運作更讚) !有一次一位就讀文學系的學生跑來問我,文學與仿生的連結是甚麼? 他要如何能進入仿生的領域? 當下讓我對於仿生合作的無疆界以及無限可能感到非常的興奮,只要人們想,仿生就跟大自然一樣,不會限制你的進入。

我們也希望接觸更多對促成跨領域學習有興趣的教育者,以及有志於仿生農業合作者。其實農業本身就是跨領域的結合,比方要蓋一棟溫室進行生產到銷售,這裡面可能匯聚了生命科學、材料、機械工程、建築設計、資通訊、商業運作系統等領域,絕非一位農夫可以完成。因此我們也歡迎有志者加入仿生農業的產業應用團隊,無論改善鄉間或都市農業都歡迎一起來激盪。

對你而言,哪些仿生相關的資源是有幫助的?

台灣仿生科技協會甫成立,我們還年輕,仍在建立自己的資源庫。對我而言,仿生總會、AskNature網站、以及我們各分會夥伴的網絡都是很有幫助的資料來源,讓我們得以從中學習、分享,更不用說走出戶外向大自然討教是一定要的。此外,先賢的智慧也是其中之一。未來,經由台灣仿生科技協會的平台,人們(尤其是中文使用者)將能更容易地連結到仿生相關的學術論文、研發參考資料、應用介紹以及產業成功案例。

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