How nature's phenomenon can a be a solution to global challenges – Københavns Universitet

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25. januar 2018

How nature's phenomenon can a be a solution to global challenges

How does the Saharan Silver Ant keep cool in the dessert? How can the bark protect the tree even in extreme temperatures? How does the Paintpot Cuttlefish change the color of its skin? These are just a few of many biological phenomena, which the students curiously explore to find inspiration for new, innovative solutions during the course Innovation Inspired by Nature.

The course Innovation Inspired by Nature is a multidisciplinary course between KU SCIENCE and DTU Mekanik and is aimed at students who wish to broaden their field of view by joining forces in team work with students from other disciplinary backgrounds. Throughout the course students have dissected insects at KU SCIENCE, visited the Botanical Garden and also had lectures from many different lecturers from both UCPH and DTU that would help the mutual goal, which is to foster innovative solutions to a real world problem within a multidisciplinary context.

Nature is a continuously inspiration for humans to create new and better solutions to whatever problem we might face. Innovation Inspired by Nature provides a platform where the students creatively can combine their imagination and knowledge to engage in open collaboration and use their different competencies to solve a problem of their own choosing.

To find out how it is to participate in a course that has a problem-based approach to teaching, we visited Elmar Laigna and Katharina Kagerl, who are two of the UCPH students attending Innovation Inspired by Nature, to talk about why they chose this specific course, which has a different and a much more applied approach to learning, and what they have experienced so far in regards to working together with students from an engineering background.

“I found this one course that stood out from all the other courses that I’ve seen so far, and that was this Inspired by Nature course. It wasn’t like any other course I’ve seen so far and it was a bit out of my field.” This was Elmar Leignas instinctive thought when he came across the course Innovation Inspired by Nature. Both Elmar and Katharina come from a biological disciplinary background and this course has so far taught them to look at biological phenomenon from an engineering perspective, how the physical propery of something really works, and how these principles can be prototyped and tried out physically.

From left to right: Elmar Laigna and Katharina Kagerl

One of the main takeaways from talking to Elmar and Katharina in their experience with the course so far is the applied mindset and the demand for structure and organising that comes with managing a practical development process. They both emphasized how this alternative approach has given them a new way of thinking about phenomenon in nature. Throughout the course they have been taught not only to look at it from its role in nature, and what it gives, you also have to take your knowledge and put it into use. To quote Elmar:

“I think it is good for students who are into entrepreneurship who would like to start a business one day. It is a good starting point to see how a process work and how to find a phenomena in nature and turn a phenomenon’s core abstract function and apply it to some kind of issue.“

It is a different way of approaching a phenomenon in nature, but as Katharina puts it, it has so far shown to be a pretty effective way to gain knowledge, because you are more into the subject. Every student has a different field of expertise, so you have to delegate and not just assume that everybody is on the same page. Therefore you have to keep each other updated about the different fields of expertise, which makes you more inclined to remember everything.

At the end when asked whether this type of course was worth recommending for future students, both students didn’t hesitate to agree. The answer was an echoing yes. What seemed to be a decisive factor in their reasoning hereof was the opportunity to engage with other students from a completely different interdisciplinary background to unite upon one single purpose – to engage in and hopefully come up with a solution to a global challenge. As one of the students put it:

“I mean that is the best possible way to be prepared for real life. Normally I’m used to being taught just hard facts and not really any application. Here it is totally the other way around, here you have to come up with your own knowledge and you have to apply it in some way. It is a totally new approach where we are to look completely different at a natural phenomenon. As a scientist you are used to a certain biological view and why something is good for the nature and what purpose does it have in nature, but here it is more how can we use the principles in nature and try to expand the perspective of the phenomenon.”

The course Inspired by Nature is one of many courses on UCPH that provide the students with an opportunity to get hands on experience and innovate something that haven’t been done before. To Elmar and Katharina the opportunity to actually make something tangible, they afterwards will be able to hold in their hands was and still is an amazing experience and their primary motivation. Innovation Inspired by Nature gave Elmar and Katharina an opportunity to apply their academic competences to a real world case and hopefully it will help prepare them for a life after graduation.