Q&A: Don Ingber – Innovation Inspired by Nature

Written on June 18th, 2014



Aired 05/06/12

After 3.8 billion years of R&D on this planet, failures are fossils. What surrounds us in the natural world is what has succeeded and survived. So why not learn as much as we can from what works? Nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth.

In January 2009, Harvard received the largest philanthropic gift in its history — $125M — to create the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and today’s guest is its founding director, DON INGBER. I find this whole notion of imitating nature one of the most exciting developments in human activity and something that gives me great hope.

The human body is an engineering marvel that maintains its balance while executing complicated movements, and senses and adapts to heat and cold. Every 20 seconds, it circulates blood through its extremities. Its cells are able to replace wounded tissue, find and destroy dangerous invaders, and interconnect to produce thoughts and emotions. Our bodies – and all living systems – accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than any entity yet designed by humans. By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.