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When to Turn to Biology for Inspiration in Systems Design

November 22, 2019, 10:45 AM - 11:00 AM


The Heldrich Hotel & Conference Center

10 Livingston Avenue

New Brunswick, NJ 08901


Click here for map.

Nina Fefferman, University of Tennessee

Bio-Inspired design is an active area of engineering research, but most instances of successful application are case-by-case analogies constructed for isolated problems. In this talk, we will discuss how natural biological systems achieve robust and efficient solutions and the implications for helping inform how and when it may be most fruitful to construct these direct analogies to particular design problems. Critically, we will also discuss when instead we should probably forgo analogy and instead build tailored tools from scratch. We will consider how it might be possible to move beyond this case-by-case analogy paradigm to exploit the deeper design elements that make natural systems successful at converging on sufficient solutions and attempt to distill an abstract set of fundamental design tools that can be used in purposeful, original design.

Speaker Bio: Nina Fefferman is Professor of Mathematics and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, where she also directs the Mathematical Modeling Consulting Center at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). Her research applies mathematical and computational models to biological systems, especially those created and governed by the voluntary collaboration of many independent individuals. Her work spans a number of different contexts, including epidemiology, evolutionary and behavioral ecology, and conservation biology. Fefferman has a long association with DIMACS, beginning as a visiting researcher in 2005 and continuing as a research faculty member through 2016 when she joined the University of Tennessee. She has organized many DIMACS events, led CCICADA projects, and been among our most popular REU mentors.