Sara received her certificate in 2013 and, when the partnership was established between Biomimicry 3.8 and ASU Online, was able to further her online education, graduating with her master’s in 2016. Alongside finishing the program, Sara was working in Egypt to find ways to use biomimicry to improve food and agricultural systems, one of her biggest areas of interest.
This past summer, Sara traded one desert climate for another when she moved from Cairo to Tempe, in order to pursue her doctorate in sustainability on campus.
“ASU is a very strong university for sustainability,” Sara says. “I was excited to come here given the similar climate, in order to see some of the innovations and solutions to food systems that have been created or are being created. The classes I’ve been taking have been adding a lot to the work I’ve been doing back home.”
In addition to her doctorate studies, Sara is a researcher at The Biomimicry Center.
“There’s quite a few ongoing projects that look at nature and creating sustainable design,” she explains. “I’m at a bit more of a theoretical level, looking at something called life’s principles, which are a guiding blueprint of how we can create a more sustainable world for ourselves inspired from the natural world. I’m working to compile more peer-reviewed research to support or refute some of these principles.”
By researching the chemistry of nature — whether that means its form or shape, the process of something that occurs naturally or an entire ecosystem — biomimicry aims to innovate in ways that are ultimately not as harmful as what we currently use to create a lot of things in our world today. Sara gives the example of an abalone shell, which consists of basic components that, through a calcification process, are formed into a very strong material.
“We can replicate that process and get a strong material to use as a building block rather than cement, which is toxic and polluting to the atmosphere,” Sara says. “The idea is to deconstruct and understand how the natural world uses life-friendly chemistry, then engineer or design from that.”
Biomimicry is not limited to emulating organisms, Ayla explains.
“There are three parts to deep and meaningful biomimicry research,” she says. “There’s emulation, or mimicking nature. Then there’s ethos, the ethics of what we do. We could develop an airplane that mimics birds and insects that fly efficiently, but if we use them to drop bombs or pollute environments then we’re not doing deep biomimicry because the organisms can do what they do without hurting their habitat. So the third piece is reconnecting — we need to remember our place in this world and that we’re a member of life on Earth. We need to fit in on Earth instead of trying to fit on Earth.”
Sara adds, “I think one of the main things that biomimicry showed me and shows a lot of people who go through the program is a very plausible and concrete way to still be the innovators we are and create technology and create the things we want, but in a context that fits in better on this planet. It gives you the path — of course, that means there is still a lot of work to be done, but at least it tells us that there is a way to get there.”
Learn more about Ayla’s career and work on her personal website.
Watch Sara’s TEDxWWF Talk.
Learn more about ASU Online’s program.