Archive for May 14th, 2011

Students collaborate on sustainable product design

Students collaborate on sustainable product design

Posted 13 May 2011, by Jennifer Fraser, Arizona State Universty News,

What happens when you integrate a class of biology and design majors?

The answer is creative tension, trial and error, innovation and, ultimately, the potential for earth-friendly designs that meet urgent needs. This is what students discovered this spring in ASU’s inaugural course in biomimicry, the practice of emulating nature to solve human problems.

“Biologically Inspired Design,” taught by Adrian Smith from the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Prasad Boradkar and Adelheid Fischer from The Design School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, is the first of its kind at ASU and the latest in a series of biomimicry initiatives led by InnovationSpace, a transdisciplinary education and research lab for product innovation in The Design School. Since the launching of the program’s biomimicry initiative in 2008, InnovationSpace has helped pioneer the use of biomimicry in sustainable design, business and engineering education. In 2010 the Montana-based Biomimicry Institute recognized these efforts by admitting ASU into its Biomimicry Affiliate Program. ASU is one of only six institutions worldwide to be awarded affiliate status.

Class projects, tackled by transdisciplinary teams of designers and biologists, considered how nature could inspire solutions for problems such as reducing water consumption, mitigating urban heat island effect, regulating household temperature or utilizing solar radiation.

For Michele Fehler, who worked as a professional graphic designer before returning to ASU’s Design School to conduct graduate work in interaction design, biomimicry is a valuable tool in achieving the goal of sustainability.

“In graphic design, marketing is ‘spray and pray’ or send out as many pieces as possible and hope someone responds. We know that there is only a 3% response rate and in nature this would be a failed system,” says Fehler. “Every time I produced a postcard, I would get a stomach ache, knowing that 97% of them would be thrown away. In the end I want to do graphic design without the stomach aches.”

Biomimicry has helped Fehler to explore other alternatives. “In nature, we see more targeted communication systems,” Fehler says. “For instance, flowers have evolved to display colors that attract bees, and bees have evolved lenses to be able to pick out the flowers they need. This is a communication system without waste.”

This kind of nature-inspired solution could change the scope of a graphic designer’s job description. In the workplace, for example, designers might spend just as much time strategizing with the heads of marketing departments to better pinpoint their audiences as they do creating compelling visual designs.

Similar real-world experiences motivated Karen Ellis, an undergraduate student in the School of Life Sciences, to become interested in biomimicry. Ellis worked on a research project in which she explored inexpensive and sustainable material for diabetes wound care in third world countries.

“In the medical world everything has to be sterile and has to be disposed of after use,” says Ellis. “While, as a microbiologist, I understand why it has to be sterile, I wish we didn’t have to produce so much medical waste.”

Raphael Hyde, a senior industrial design major, discovered a new principle of full-circle product design as a result of the class.

“Waste = Food; a concept which has taught me to strategically understand how we can utilize materials at the end of their life cycle, creating better solutions that support our ecosystem and the wonderful community around us,” says Hyde.

Ellis says that the course offered her more than a new perspective on utilizing the gifts of nature. Students were exposed to the language, processes and stresses of their peers in other disciplines.

“I like the creative energy of the class, and the tension between the designers and the biology students. This tension motivates us to gather more information, rather than just presenting information in forms that only biology students will understand,” Ellis says. “This class is the epitome of what President Crow’s New American University is all about. When students in each of the disciplines let themselves go to consider the impossible – meaning biology students forget for a moment about the limits of physics and chemistry and design students forget about product limitations – what we come up with could evolve into what is possible.”

Written by Jennifer Fraser

Media Contact:
Adelheid Fischer,
Program Manager, InnovationSpace

Students collaborate on sustainable product design

Good harvest, abundant food predicted

Good harvest, abundant food predicted

Bountiful rice yields, an abundance of food and a fair amount of water were predicted for the coming crop year at the Royal Ploughing Ceremony yesterday.

Posted 14 May 2011, by Staff, The Bangkok Post,

Bountiful rice yields, an abundance of food and a fair amount of water were predicted for the coming crop year by soothsayers at the Royal Ploughing Ceremony at Sanam Luang on Friday.

The ancient ceremony, which has been performed since the Sukhothai period some 700 years ago, was held in the morning to mark the beginning of the traditional rice planting season and boost the morale of farmers.

On behalf of His Majesty the King, HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the ceremony, accompanied by His Royal Consort HRH Princess Srirasmi, and HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha.

Two sacred white oxen, named Phra Ko Fah and Phra Ko Sai, were taken to plough the ceremonial ground at Sanam Luang, herded by agriculture and cooperatives permanent secretary Chalermporn Pirunsarn.

Dressed as a Brahmin god,  Mr Chalermporn served in the ceremony as Lord of the Plough, or Phraya Raek Na.

Mr Chalermpol’s choice of a piece of cloth led to a prediction that there would be a fair amount of water, bountiful rice yields and an abundance of food.

The oxen were each then offered seven bowls of food and their choices were used to make the predictions.

The seven dishes were grass, paddy, maize, sesame seeds, soy bean, water and liquor.

The oxen ate grass, giving a forecast that the country would enjoy an average water supply, plentiful rice yields, and an abundance of fruits and staple foods this year.

The oxen also drank liquor, giving a prediction that  communications would be convenient, foreign trade would flourish, and the economy would prosper.

At the ceremony, rewards were given to outstanding farmers, agricultural organisations, cooperatives, and farming scholars.

A lesson in diversity: Learning about prairies one seed at a time

A lesson in diversity: Learning about prairies one seed at a time

Posted 14 May 2011, by Randall Downing, The Journal-Standard,

Freeport, Ill. —Each fall a group of us get together on weekend afternoons during the months of September and October to pick prairie seed for use in local prairie restoration projects. I can still remember the first time I joined this group on such an outing. I knew absolutely nothing about prairies and prairie plants but decided that it sounded like a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Ten years later I still pick prairie seed on fall weekends. Surprisingly, in the intervening decade of seed picking I have never been back to the prairie where I first picked seed, yet it still remains fresh in my mind. It is a remnant hill prairie that sits high on an exposed point of a south facing bluff overlooking the Mississippi River Valley. Our little group of prairie fans called it “Falling-Down-Prairie” because falling down is what you usually did several times over in order to reach this prairie because of its inhospitable location. It is believed that this remnant prairie, surrounded by woodlands, remained a prairie because Native Americans burned it frequently to keep it open and free of woody vegetation so that it would remain useful as an observation point.

Indeed the view of the valley below is big, broad and beautiful. As a novice seed picker standing on this high prairie, I was in awe. I could not help but imagine that I was an Indian standing on Lookout Prairie watching over our valley below thinking “this is how it was meant to be and all is right with Mother Earth.”

But I digress; I really want to talk about seed picking. My first assignment was to pick Side Oats Gramma, simply called “Side Oats.” Side Oats is a relatively short grass with oatlike seeds that hang at roughly quarter inch intervals from single blades of grass starting at the top. An experienced picker showed me a Side Oats plant. I examined it for a minute, thought “this should be easy,” and then stepped out into the prairie. Where did the Side Oats go? I don’t see any, then I see something that might be, but I am not sure. “Is this Side Oats?” “It’s not, well it sort of looks like it.” Renewing my search, “Oh here’s one for sure.” Receiving confirmation from my experienced partner, I pick my first prairie seed and drop it in my 5-gallon bucket whereupon it seems totally insignificant. I am pleased nonetheless. Continuing, I find another plant and with confirmation pick the seed. Soon I find another, then another, and after a bit, it becomes easy to spot Side Oats plants. After a half-hour or so I can spot Side Oats plants and groups of plants from considerable distance. My enthusiasm soars and I begin to cover the bottom of my bucket and even produce measurable quantities of Side Oats seeds. And so the afternoon goes. I become a Side Oats expert, I can quickly spot them from some distance and my prairie world now contains two identifiable plant species: Side Oats and “Other.” I end the day tired but happy that I have become a contributing member of our seed picking team.

The next time out I take on a new assignment, Black-Eyed Susan. Black-Eyed Susan is a bit more of a challenge in that to the inexperienced, a lot of plants have seed heads that sort of look like Black-Eyed Susan. The seed head is rounded, about the size of a dime, faded black to dark brown. But the distinguishing characteristic is that the brown-black head has a small silver “halo” surrounding it, all that remains from its faded yellow petals. The Side Oats experience is repeated. “I can’t find any.” “Oh here’s one.” Then another and another till suddenly the prairie is filled with Black-Eyed Susan as your mind’s eye becomes trained to spot your new conquest. This time I filled my bucket fairly quickly and moved on to another species.

Monarda, actually Monarda fistulosa, with the common name of Bergamot. All plants have a scientific name and one or more common names. Many of our experienced pickers know both. I am struggling to pick up what I can. What’s interesting to me is that most of the plants have a commonly used handle that for some plants is the common name, sometimes the scientific name, or frequently a shortened version of the scientific name. So Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is usually called Black-Eyed Susan but sometimes Rudbeckia. Bergamot is always called Monarda and never Bergamot and rarely Monarda fistulosa. (Are you confused yet? And, we are only up to three plants.) Nevertheless, I soon become trained to spot Monarda. Its seed head is slightly larger than Black-Eyed Susan’s, a more reddish brown in color, and missing the silver halo. Monarda also adds another dimension to plant recognition, it has a distinctive odor. A very pleasant “spicy” odor that you can smell on your hands and in your seed bucket as you clip seed heads and build up your cache of harvested seed. The same learning process happens, but probably a little faster with each new species. Again at the end of this second day I am a tired but happy picker knowing that I have made a contribution and that my prairie world now consists of four species: Side Oats, Black-Eyed Susan, Monarda, and “Other.”

And so it goes, through this fall and on into succeeding years. The list of plants that you can identify, name (if you can remember), recognize by smell, and harvest successfully continues to grow. You can strip, clip, pluck, and twist-snap seed heads depending on the type of plant. Your sense of prairie has now expanded to 40 or 50 different species as well as the omnipresent “Other.” At this point you begin to notice other things about prairie; some plants seem to grow singularly while others tend to grow in colonies, most plants seem to have a preferred home-base on the soil scale of dry-mesic-wet. You begin to notice that when you find Downy Sunflower, you frequently see Rattlesnake Master also. You notice that Sneezeweed is often found with Blue Vervain and that Nodding Wild Onion seems to enjoy the company of Heath Aster.

Finally you begin to sense that a prairie is like a coarsely but carefully woven tapestry. It has a vertical texture to it, as well as a horizontal dimension defined by the differing plants themselves. Most prairie restorations have their seed mix broadcast fairly uniformly, yet the resultant prairie is far from uniform in appearance. Native remnant prairies are even more variable in appearance, having been around much longer in time. The plants themselves and other forces of nature decide which plants grow where. Their preference for micro-climate, tendency to grow singularly or in clusters, ability to compete for available resources, and just pure chance are some of the parts of the loom that weave this colorful living tapestry. Diversity is the word that comes naturally to mind, though ecologists like to use the word biodiversity. A large selection of plant species with wildly different gene pools, appearances, and growth characteristics come together and create a living tapestry that has much more visual appeal and meaning than can be had from just summing up the individual plant assets. Take the same seed mix and broadcast it at a different a site and a different looking prairie will develop. This is the miracle of diversity.

Picking prairie seed is a wonderful experience. You can get totally absorbed in a prairie, and easily lost in your own thoughts, especially on a warm sunny fall afternoon. I often do that. So I am thinking about how diversity in prairies relates to diversity in human societies and I conclude that the same benefits should avail. Bringing together people of different races, ethnicity, religions, and other characteristics should create a society much more interesting, capable, and resilient than would be the case with less diversity. I believe that, and I believe that more and more of our world believes that, but not everyone. Then as the afternoon sun begins to warm me even more, I begin to daydream.

In an instant I move back in time 200 years. It is 1804, the year Lewis and Clark began their famous voyage. I am now a Sauk Indian standing tall looking out over the Mississippi Valley from our Lookout Prairie. The view from my vantage is totally unspoiled vast and awesome. I scan the horizon and all below for any signs of activity. Out of the corner of my eye I spot some movement and begin to focus on that movement. I soon recognize the movement as that of a small boat on the river. I watch carefully and see that the boat is occupied by two white men headed upriver, probably to set up a beaver trapping operation further upstream. I am anxious. What will their presence mean to me? What will it mean to my people? Should we drive these strangers from our lands or should we welcome them? Then I think about the vast diversity of the prairie upon which I stand, and I think about how that diversity ought to apply to man as well, and so I begin to relax. And I say to myself, “This is how it was meant to be and all is right with Mother Earth.”

Randall (Randy) Downing, member of the Northwest Illinois Green Team, has lived in Jo Daviess County since retiring from AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1989. He lives with his wife Sylvia in the rural Stockton area. Their property includes a 5-acre tallgrass prairie that was seeded mostly from seeds that were picked from local prairies.

Sabahan lasses encouraged to attend audition

Sabahan lasses encouraged to attend audition

Posted 14 May 2011, by Staff, The Borneo Post,

KOTA KINABALU: Upholding the phrase “Beauties Nurturing Nature”, Mandy Nandu, the organizing chairman of Miss Earth Sabah 2011, will welcome local Sabahan females, to participate in an audition of Miss Earth 2011 to be held at the Novotel Kota Kinabalu 1Borneo on May 17.

When contacted yesterday, Nandu said Miss Earth Sabah this year will aim to highly and practically educate the young girls in Sabah to help create an awareness for themselves, their families and especially the community in the state to be more serious in saving and protecting the environment.

“We are looking for females aged between 18 to 25 who are interested to learn more about caring and preserving Mother Earth, to participate in this prestigious green journey from 10am to 4pm.

“A total of 16 finalists will be shortlisted. Those who are selected to be among the 16 finalists will have the opportunity to enrol themselves in various environmental activities through cultures all over the state,” she said.

Nandu added that apart from enrolling themselves in programmes which emphasize strongly on environmental protection, the participants are also required to attend various environmental activities, where they will be given the opportunity to practise and voice out their green thoughts and ideas.

The winner of Miss Earth Sabah 2011 will be appointed ambassador of the Environment Action Centre (EAC) where she will use her role to promote environmental awareness.

The event which is supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, is scheduled to commence from June 1 to 11 this year.

The grand final will be held on June 11 at the 1Borneo Grand Ballroom.

Miss Earth Sabah 2010 May Salitah Naru Kiob will crown and hand over the responsibility of green ambassador to her successor.

More updates are available on the Miss Earth Sabah official page on Facebook.

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