The impact of exposure to biologically-inspired design on environmental ethics of undergraduate engineering students

Brent A Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Many natural organisms have developed and adapted solutions to technical challenges that are similar to those encountered in the engineering world, including developing hard and tough materials, optimizing the division of labor and resources, maintaining constant temperature, and generating efficient propulsion in air and water. Biologically-inspired design (BID) refers to applying such natural solutions to generate innovative design solutions for human-encountered technical challenges. BID exposure allows ecological principles to be taught within an engineering context, potentially enhancing environmental appreciation among engineers. This study evaluates results from a survey instrument that evaluated environmental attitudes among engineering students in a BID course taught at our institution and was administered both at the beginning and end of the semester. The survey produced mixed results, with a statistically significant increase occurring in the number of students freely listing environmental impact as a design consideration, but a small decrease occurring in the relative rank of environmental impact when students were prompted to rank it against other design considerations. Such a disconnect between attitudes and actions has previously been observed and could be attributed to a number of factors, including environmental discussions in the students other external activities, media coverage, political debates, and a drought crisis that occurred in our region during the semester of the course. The preliminary results demonstrate that BID represents a promising approach for improving environmental ethics of engineering students and recommend further examination of the subject.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2009
Event2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 14 2009Jun 17 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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