Bio-Inspired Design

Bio-Inspired Design JBS program

Professor Maria Miara | 10 Weeks, 12 Credits | June 5 - August 11, 2017

Elegant, efficient wind turbine blades that move like whale fins. Super-strong adhesives that stick and release like barnacles and gecko feet. Every day, innovative new technologies are inspired by the natural world.

Now it’s your turn.

Over 10 weeks, in a variety of settings - including laboratories, museums, zoos and the Brandeis MakerLab - you will work with biologists, engineers and artists to explore intriguing life forms and develop the quantitative tools needed to work at the intersection of form and function. You will design a nature-inspired product to solve an important societal problem. And you will present your concept to the Brandeis and local scientific communities in an interactive, TED-like forum.

Program Highlights:

While activities, guest speakers, field trips, and assignments will vary from year to year, when this program was offered in Summer 2015 students:

  • Visited Boston's Museum of Science for an exhibition on "RoboBees" - This exhibit showcased the uses of microrobotics and the challenges in replicating swarms found in nature.
  • Went to the New England Aquarium to study marine life.
  • Spent time in the Brandeis Animal lab to study the skeletons, musculature, and features of various creatures.
  • Toured the Franklin Park Zoo and had a behind-the-scenes "Giraffe Encounter" where students could interact with a giraffe up close.
  • Studied the various methods animals use to achieve flight.
  • Visited the Boston Children's Hospital SIMPeds program. The SIMPeds lab takes MRI and CT scans of patients' organs and prints 3-D models for surgeons so they can plan out their surgery in advance and in detail reducing the time the patient is in the operating room.
  • Explored exhibits at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
  • Attended the Wyss Institute Symposium on Bio-Inspired Robotics.
  • Used 3-D printing and other new technologies in the Brandeis MakerLab to develop prototypes of their inventions.
  • And had visits from guest speakers like Brooke Flammang of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Her lab studies fish and finned locomotion and she has helped design a robot that swims like a fish!

For your convenience and summer planning, here is a draft schedule of 2017 Bio-Inspired design class meetings, field trips, and activities. Please note: this schedule is subject to change.

Ideal for:

This program is suited for students across disciplines with an interest in the natural world and a desire to solve problems creatively. It may be particularly appealing to students in Biology, Biological Physics, Environmental Studies or HSSP.  

Students in this JBS will also earn 3 courses (12 credit hours) and fulfill one Oral Communication (OC), one Quantitative Reasoning (QR), and three Science (SN) requirements toward graduation. Additionally, one JBS can count as a semester of residency toward graduation. This means, with proper planning, a student could potentially graduate a semester early (saving a semester of tuition).  All students - but particularly transfer students - should click here to review the terms and conditions surrounding residency requirements.


BIOL 43bj - Comparative Anatomy
Requirements Fulfilled: SN
Prerequisites: BIOL 15b or BIOL 22b

Description: Drawing from comparative anatomy and functional morphology, this course is designed to provide an overview of the form and function of organisms and provide a base on which to build further study organismal biology. Students will be introduced to the basics of the development, cellular make-up, evolution and function of the anatomy of many eukaryotes including vertebrates, fungi and plants anatomy. While the focus will be to examine these topics at the level of organs, organ systems and whole organisms, connections will be made to the molecular and cellular levels of organization. It is expected that students who pass this course will understand all concepts such that they may integrate them with each other and apply them to novel situations. Laboratory dissections, an end-of-term oral presentation and short answer tests will aid in this goal.

BIOL 46aj - Biomechanics
Requirements Fulfilled: SN, QR
Prerequisites: BIOL 15b.

Description: How do birds fly? Why do fish and paramecium swim differently? What is blood pressure? Why don't trees fall over in the wind? This course is designed to provide an introduction to biomechanics at all scales and within a variety of taxonomic groups. Students will explore both fluid and solid mechanics and will be encouraged to apply their knowledge to understanding how physical properties impact our day-to-day lives. In-class participation, problem sets, and short answer tests will aid in this goal.

BIOL 153aj - Project Lab in Biomimetics/Bioinspiration
Requirements Fulfilled: SN, OC
Prerequisites: BIOL 15b. 

Description: In this course students will explore how the natural world has been used to inspire designs that solve real-world problems, work together to identify a problem, learn techniques they can use to design and build their own bio-inspired designs and present their products in a clear and accessible manner.

Note: You are required to have taken one or more of the following as prerequisites: BIOL 15b (formerly BIOL 22b).

Note for students who have already taken BIOL 43b, BIOL 46a, or BIOL 153a.

If you have already taken BIOL 43b, BIOL 46a, and/or BIOL 153a, you may still enroll in this JBS and earn credits toward graduation. While there will be repetition of some concepts, the courses in this JBS have unique content and therefore unique course numbers (PSYC 51aj, BIOL 46aj, and BIOL 153aj). Therefore, these courses are viewed as different courses - as you are not repeating a course.  So the grade you earned earlier for BIOL 43b, BIOL 46a, or BIOL 153a will not change and will still appear on your transcript.  So if the unique subject matter of this JBS intrigues you, you may still use these classes as credits toward graduation.  You also have the option of making one of your classes a PEER 94a.  Please contact the JBS Program for details. 


If you have questions about the program, please email Prof. Maria Miara at:

If you have questions about the application process or have general programs about the JBS program, email us at:

For your convenience and summer planning, here is a draft schedule of 2017 Bio-Inspired design class meetings, field trips, and activities. Please note: this schedule is subject to change.

JBS Applications:

Applications are still being accepted for summer 2017! Generous need-based JBS Scholarships are still available for this program!

Applicants should first review the application process, then begin your JBS application here.

There are limited spaces and scholarships for all JBS programs, so applicants are encouraged to apply right away!