Lesson 2: Evolution and Biomimicry


  • You will describe ways in which a particular species has changed over time, and which features contributed to its longevity.
  • You will observe fossils of animals and other organisms to learn about their anatomy, behavior, and unique features that may have increased its probability of survival.
  • You will use behavioral and anatomical traits found in the natural world and apply them to human-made challenges (biomimicry).

Time to Complete

1 to 3 hours


You will be reviewing how fossils tell us about the anatomy and function of organisms in the past. Review the standards that are directly and indirectly related to this topic, including:


  1. Use the Notes tool to list some things you know about fossils and types of fossils you’ve seen or heard about.
  2. Read What are Fossils?, including this short animation that shows how a fossil is formed. Take notes using the Notes tool.

Let’s Get Started

  1. Read  Pterosaurs and other fossil flyers to better engineer human-made flight to understand how fossils can be used to inform design development today to solve problems. Use the Notes tool to take notes.
  2. Have you ever heard of the term biomimicry? You can use the word parts to define it. “Bio” means “life” and “Mimicry” means “imitation”, so biomimicry is the “design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes.”
  3. Watch the video What is Biomimicry? Take notes using the Notes tool.
  1. Consider ways in which we can look to the natural world to find inspiration for modern problems. Use the Notes tool to make a list of fields in which biomimicry may have an effect: architecture, medicine, transportation, communication, language, etc.
  2. Consider one of the many health issues you have learned about that have affected Memphis residents. These include genetic disorders, climate related issues such as asthma, food related issues such as scarcity, etc. In this module, you will be considering a health issue that affects the people of Memphis and will use biomimicry principles to design a product that will, in some way, help those individuals. In the Notes tool make a list of these health issues. Then select one that interests you most, and briefly explain why. (Does this health issue affect you or your family? Is this an issue you want to learn more about? Do you feel empathy for people affected by this issue? Etc.)
  3. You will be observing nature, meeting with individuals, and looking at fossils to get an understanding of both the health issue you would like to help with and to be inspired by nature to find the solution.
  4. First, you will be examining fossils to find features of organisms that you think may have contributed to their probability of survival.

Let’s Get to Work

  1. Using the distance learning collaboration tool your school has adopted, create a group of 4 students. You are going to be “paleontologists” and will be examining virtual fossils. If you are working independently, you can complete the following activities with a sibling, parent, or other member of your household. You could also work on your own, but seek the input of a family member if you get stuck or need an opinion.
  2. Watch the Bill Nye the Science Guy episode on Fossils for more background information. Discuss the key ideas in the episode with your group. Then write a brief summary of the key ideas in the episode in the Notes tool.
  1. Many things are inspired by fossils. For example, fossils are helping paleontologists find inspiration in robot design. Read the article Making Fossils Move to Build Better Robots. Take notes using the Notes tool.
  2. As a group, discuss what people can learn from fossils, using your notes from step 3 as a reference. Open a Google Doc and, as a group, identify some features you see in fossils (either from memory or from examining online fossil images).
  3. Each member of your group should now identify one way in which they would like to help the residents of Memphis.
  4. Start to examine fossils online to find features that could inspire a design to help those individuals. Are there any features that existed years ago and are also found in nature (for example claws)? Can you find any inspiration for helping Memphis residents (such as a new prosthetic limb design based on features found in organism limbs)? Use a Google Doc to brainstorm some ideas with your group as you identify fossils you see and their specific features.

Let’s Wrap Up

  1. You are not expected to be inspired directly by fossils alone, but rather you should look to all forms of nature to find inspiration for your Memphis issue.
  2. Use the Notes tool to list ways or places you could observe nature (e.g., zoo, national parks, snorkeling, etc.) If you need to “observe” while you are at home, think about some virtual or accessible alternatives. (e.g., zoo webcam, national park website, online photo albums, your backyard, etc.)
  3. Consider which problem you are most interested in solving through nature-inspired design?

Be sure to upload all of your completed PDFs before moving on to your next lesson.