Rhinebeck students win first place in National Biomimicry Youth Climate Change competition

L-R: Ben Wheeler, David Curren, Alan Raitt, Lulu Pronto Breslin, Sunday Ault Nolan

RHINEBECK (May 30) – The Futuristas, a team made up of fifth and sixth graders who attend Rhinebeck Central Schools, have been awarded First Place nationally in the middle school category of the Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge. The Youth Design Challenge, sponsored by the Biomimicry Institute, is a new project-based learning experience and competition for students in grades 6-12. The program challenges middle and high school students to create solutions to a problem associated with climate change adaptation or mitigation using biomimicry, or nature-inspired design.

According to the Biomimicry Institute: “The goal [of biomimicry] is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul …nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.”

Biomimicry was introduced to the Rhinebeck community at the Rhinebeck Science Foundation’s Discovery Festival two years ago.

This year, 78 teams submitted projects for consideration by the judges. The Futuristas included the first group of 5th grades to participate in the challenge. The Futuristas met on Sunday evenings for several months. After learning about biomimicry, doing research and lots of discussion, they decided to address changing storm patterns and the fact that severe storms now create too much standing water. They designed a permeable courtyard to address the problem of too much rainwater.

The Futuristas wrote:  “The problem our team addressed is that of too much water. We looked at flooding, and polluted run-off in areas where there is too much water pooling on human-made surfaces that are not porous (i.e. concrete, asphalt). We considered how to capture and partly filter the water and use it in other nearby places that need water. ”

They used functions and strategies from beehives, the hottentot plant, gramma grass and bromeliads to create a strong permeable, multi-layer, fast absorbing and water storing design. They employed design thinking and prototyping, consulted with experts and went on a field trip to Bard University to learn about their permeable surfaces.

Dorna Schroeter, one of three coaches, has been teaching biomimicry to students and running professional development workshops for teachers for over a decade and, is a member of the Biomimicry Institute’s Education Network and International Leadership team. She said: I have served as a judge for the past 3 years. Each year I am blown away by the creativity and enthusiasm of all the groups. They are the solution generation and their passion and refusal to be daunted inspires me and give me hope for the future!  This is the first year that I participated on the other side, as a co-coach.  What was so amazing working with the Futuristas was the level of commitment and dedication on theirs and their parents’ part. It was not a required school program, but strictly volunteer. We all became inspired and learned together!

The Futuristas have been awarded $1,000 which will be donated to the Starr Library. Starr made their community space available to the team for some of their Sunday night meetings.  A portion of the money will be used to support environmental and conservation programming, bringing attention to the need to protect that which inspires us. The rest will be used to create and purchase materials and bio-inspired products for a biomimicry display and educational toolkit. The display and toolkit will first be installed at Starr and then made available to other libraries across the Hudson Valley.

The team asks that all who are inspired by their work make a donation to a nature conservation organization and to consider doing or hosting a biomimicry challenge! As one team member said “there are solutions in nature to many problems if you just bother to take a look”.

View their winning video pitch



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