Opportunity is everywhere. So is distraction. Shiny objects abound. Not all of them are right for you. Radical focus is a super power. Decide what and who you want in your life and filter all the noise through that lens. See what happens. Tell about it.
This week in my biomimicry program, I got to study patterns in tropical rainforests and apply them to products as if I were a product development consultant (which is what I’m planning to do with my degree when I finish my program.) It was such a blast and I got a lot of supportive feedback on my ideas from my classmates so I thought I would share them with you as well.
My audience is a set of product developers who have been tasked with making their products and systems more sustainable and less toxic.
What are the three most compelling patterns in life’s strategies in the rainforest that you want to bring to the table?
1.) The rainforest produces vibrant colors without toxic chemicals.
2.) Leaves of plants close to the rainforest floor under the dense canopy have structures that collect and focus light.
3.) Animals in the rainforest have adaptations to help them regulate their body temperature.
Articulate simple design principles for each of the three patterns.
Pattern: Color creation
The blue morpho butterfly (Morpho peleides) are magicians of color. Luckily for us, science demystifies their powers and teaches us how they get their trademark iridescent blue color. Its secrets lie in the architecture of its wings. Imagine this beautiful butterfly with an 8-inch wingspan flitting from flower to flower in the Colombian rainforest’s sunshine. The light hits its wings and rather than absorb and reflect back light as most objects do, the morpho’s wings diffract and interfere with the light. When we look closely, a morpho’s wings aren’t smooth. They have peaks and valleys that overlap, similar to roof tiles. The space between the overlapping scales and the height of the ridges of those scales on its wings have a direct impact on the color. In the case of the morpho, the spaces between the scales are exactly half the size of the wavelength of blue light. This is what causes the intense, iridescent blue of its wings.
Pattern: Focus light
Clubbed begonia (Begonia cucullata) grow along the floor of the rainforests in Asia. Because the canopy of a rainforest is dense, plants on the lower levels need to develop adaptations to collect as much light as they can to perform photosynthesis. Begonia leaves have a set of cells on the surface that focus light, similar in function to glass lenses. This allows them to collect and concentrate diffuse (indirect) light. Then it directs that light to the grains of chlorophyll in the leaves.
Pattern: Regulate body temperature
The common toucan (Ramphastos toco) lives in the canopy layer of the rainforests of South and Central America. In an environment where the temperature ranges between 70 and 85 degrees and the humidity is 77% – 88% year-round, the toucan has to expertly regulate its body temperature. The genius adaptation it uses is its beak—the largest beak (and therefore surface area) relative to body size in the animal kingdom. By regulating the blood flow to its beak, it controls its thermal radiation and therefore its body temperature. This adaptation is seen in a number of other animals structures such as the large ears of elephants and jackrabbits, and the skin of iguanas.
What simple application ideas, inspired by your design principles, would you use to help this group of designers understand some possibilities of ‘emulating nature’s designs’?
1.) Cosmetics that use the same microstructures rather than toxic chemicals to create color.
2.) Clothing / textile colors that use surface textures rather than toxic dyes.
3.) Paint that contains microstructures to produce vibrant colors without the use of toxins.
4.) Food coloring with microstructures rather than toxic colorants.
Light collection and focus:
1.) Solar cells that mimic the structures of begonia cells to collect and focus light, even during overcast days.
2.) Glass for building, home, and greenhouse windows that allow it to regulate light on cloudy days in order to reduce the need for artificial indoor lighting.
3.) Glass for cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions that allow for brighter displays outdoors without having to brighten display and use the battery or electricity unnecessarily. (The brightness of screens is one of the biggest drains on energy of electronic devices.)
1.) Building architecture that uses recycled water systems below the outside surface to help regulate temperatures.
2.) The use of recycled water systems just below the surface of sidewalks, roadways, and bridges to regulate temperature (prevent overheating and freezing).
3.) Using recycled water systems to regulate the temperatures of vehicles—cars, boats, buses, planes, etc.
I never want my brand to be “she plays it safe.” Dreaming chasing is rarely synonymous with comfort. You have to go out there, way out there, passion in your heart, your goals and values top of mind, confidence in your gut. You have to create your own odds.
This morning I realized that I’m going to have to start over. Or rather, my second novel has to be tossed and I have to begin again. I’ve been trying to patch together the pieces for months. Maybe some of them will prove useful down the line. Maybe some of them can be recycled and reused and reformed. But now what I need to do is begin again, all over again. For a split second, the weight of despair was heavy. Months of work just evaporated. And then very quickly, my heart moved from mourning to excitement. A fresh start, a new beginning created by a new ending. This is the creative process. It takes time. It takes patience. You have to be willing to go back to the beginning, reset, and try again. That’s where I am today: at the edge of the cliff, and now I leap.
If there’s one universal truth I live by, it’s this: if something scares us, then we must do it. Yes, there will be bumps, scratches, bruises along the way. We’ll figure it out. We always do. I’m cheering for you, even when you’re scared. Esp when you’re scared. So go. Be. Do.❤️
I outlined all of my remaining assignments for the first semester of my biomimicry graduate program, and then I burst into tears. One step closer to my decades-long dream of being a scientist. Some dreams take time. Don’t give up.
I spent my birthday morning yesterday brunching in Queens. On the train it occurred to me that 20 years ago on this exact day I moved to this neighborhood, into my first NYC apartment, and was promoted to my first management job (Studio 54 at the Roundabout Theatre Company.) Time and memory are such funny, twisted things.
My birthday has been filled with friends, sunshine, and tequila so in my book, I’m already winning at this latest trip around the sun. Life only gets better every single year and I’m so dang grateful. Thank you all for being here for the glorious madness. I love you.❤
And happy 1/2 birthday today to my favorite fuzzy co-pilot – my sweet senior dog, Phineas.
I’m super-excited to take over Young Entertainment Magazine’s Twitter feed today from 2pm – 4pm Eastern. I’ll be talking about my writing journey and my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. Tune in, ask questions, and hang out with me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the college cheating scandal. As a poor kid, higher education was the ticket I chose to build a better life for myself as an adult. I worked incredibly hard in high school and I was so fortunate to have an amazing guidance counselor.
My college tuition was more than my mother’s annual salary. I am forever grateful to Penn that they had need-blind admission and that they had (and continue to have) a guarantee to meet 100% of a student’s need through loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study.
I worked 3+ jobs all through college. It was tremendously difficult to be a student who struggled financially in a school full of privilege. That shame left a scar that took years into my adult life to heal. I’ve learned to be proud of those scars; they show what I survived.
Now w/ college 20 years in my rear view mirror, a graduate degree from the Darden School (another wonderful school), and currently enrolled in a second graduate degree in biomimicry at The Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University. I understand the pressure to get into a top school and the opportunities it affords.
What’s most tragic to me about this college cheating scandal is how many students there are today who are in the same boat I was in at 18 years old. How many spots were taken from them at these colleges by people who had parents pay their way in? That loss is what hurts most.
My great hope is that this situation will lead to greater equity in higher education. I’m living proof that it is a path to a better life, and it’s an opportunity that should be open to all who are willing to work for it, regardless of the financial status of their parents.
I’m doing a #YAAuthorTakeover on Thursday for Young Entertainment Mag ‘s Twitter account @YoungEntMag. I’ll be talking about my book, writing / publishing, turning a book into a film, etc. What questions would you want me to answer?