Youth Design Challenge (YDC)

The Youth Design Challenge is a hands-on, project-based learning experience that provides classroom and informal educators with an engaging framework to  introduce bio-inspired design and an interdisciplinary lens on science, engineering, and environmental literacy. It gives middle and high school students a unique STEM  experience and empowers them to envision solutions to social and environmental challenges. During the program, students learn and experience:

  • A process that weaves nature’s ingenious solutions into problem solving.
  • Fun outdoor excursions to observe nature and identify the functions and relationships behind biological attributes.
  • How forms, processes, and systems in nature can inspire innovative sustainable design.
  • Confidence in making, inventing, creating, and offering solutions to complex problems.
  • How science and design impact society and the natural world.

Meet the 2022 Youth Design Challenge Winners

From urban flooding and stormwater management to increasing access to clean drinking water in drought-prone areas, the Biomimicry Institute’s 2021-22 YDC winners have offered unique, nature-inspired ideas to solve local design challenges.
Read the award recipient announcement here.

Middle School Category

First Place: The Fire Forewarner

In recent years, the problem of wildfires in California has increased as residents have witnessed thousands of wildfires and millions of acres burned. The Fire Forewarner, developed by Aryan & Kovid’s Team, is a device that aims to help bring those numbers down. The design concept is a solar-powered box that contains a protected circuit board and flame retardant capsule with a high temperature glue on the lid.

Second Place: Ice Resistant Surfaces

In Montana and similar winter-stricken cold environments, planes need to be de-iced. Chemicals used in deicing are hazardous to the environment and eventually flow into rivers, lakes, and groundwater. These chemicals harm the ecosystems and contaminate the water supply. The BioSurfaces team aimed to reduce the need for harmful chemicals used and came up with the idea of Ice Resistant Surfaces.

International Honorable Mention: The Floodulator

The Floodulator is a system that includes a locally designed pipe on the ground level to store the rainwater underground in a boxfish-shaped tank (for water control and rigidity) that can distribute water to other areas of the city. More specifically, it can help distribute excess water in areas of flooding where the drainage system has been overwhelmed to London’s greener areas.

Third Place: CactiShirt

Interrobang from San Jose came up with CactiShirt: a design to passively cool a person down with a shirt that incorporates microscopic folds, just like desert cacti, to increase the surface area to allow more heat to radiate. The CactiShirt is designed to also be lighter in color so that it won’t absorb as much heat as darker colors, just as chameleons can change to a lighter color when they get hot.

High School Category

First Place: Urban Floodwater Reduction System

The Urban Floodwater Reduction System slows down water by splitting up the flow and creating tortuous paths; creates blockages to flood-designated areas upstream; and negates the amount of energy the water carries as it flows downstream towards the house most affected by the creek’s flooding.

Second Place: Syntrichia HydroTrap

The Syntrichia Hydrotrap is portable, attaches to any reusable water bottle, and uses a unique structure to capture moisture in the air. By mimicking the awns of desert moss (Syntrichia caninervis), the design concept uses water pumps to collect water droplets through barbs and grooves.

International Honorable Mention: Greenification

The Green Waves team from Anseong, Korea came up with an environmentally-friendly concept to solve this desertification problem. They created a land trampling structure to mimic the movement of herds in a grassland. Herd movement through the grasslands can be a healthy alternative to burning fields, because as the herd passes by, they redistribute nutrients across the field and break down the soil. The team’s solution also accounts for the balance needed here as overgrazing can also result in more desertification.

Third Place: River Reef

The River Reef is a cluster of banana leaf-like structures with a rough surface made of RPET, a bio-friendly plastic, that can be adjusted and placed at the bottom of any waterway. The design uses strategies inspired by seagrass and rough cactus coral to help slow down currents and trap sediments carried by the water.

With biomimicry education, students:

Develop skills

in addressing environmental and sustainability issues, creative problem-solving, and systems thinking.

Are curious

and better able to use science and engineering to solve critical challenges.

Gain a new perspective

on nature and how it can be a model, mentor, and measure of success for innovation that supports a healthy planet.

Similarly, educators have an interdisciplinary platform to connect subjects to one another, and to the real world beyond classroom walls, along with an engaging framework for addressing climate science and ecoliteracy within STEM education.

YDC Impact:

Teachers Engaged

Students Reached



Access to these materials has revitalized my ecology unit and made it so much more relevant, purposeful, and exciting for students. It has enabled the unit to become a PBL [project-based learning] experience and has heightened student engagement. I feel that I am giving them more tools and a framework to address the problems their generation will need to solve.
YDC Teacher

Ready to teach your students biomimicry?

While social distancing may be drawing students and teachers apart, the opportunity to grow closer to nature through STEM-rich biomimicry learning has never been more crucial.

Funders & Partners​

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Support the Next Generation
of Nature-Inspired Innovators

Imagine a world where everything we make is inspired by the natural world. By supporting the Biomimicry Institute you:

  • Help bring biomimicry education to more students and educators
  • Accelerate the growth of more nature-inspired startups and entrepreneurs
  • Increase the number of biological strategies and resources on and across our entire organization.

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