3.A26 Freshman Seminar: The Nature of Engineering

Fall 2005

A microscope photograph of a plant stem's cross-section.
Many plant stems have a circular cross-section with a structure made of a dense outer shell surrounding an inner layer of low density, foam-like cells. (Photo by Prof. Lorna Gibson.)

Course Highlights

This course features extensive project documentation, including several years' worth of student work, and videos of Prof. Lorna Gibson demonstrating key concepts.

» Watch a video introduction for a prior version of this course (Freshman Seminar: The Engineering of Birds) featuring the course instructor.
Prof. Lorna Gibson (RM - 56K) (RM - 80K) (RM - 220K)

Course Description

Are you interested in investigating how nature engineers itself? How engineers copy the shapes found in nature ("biomimetics")? This Freshman Seminar investigates why similar shapes occur in so many natural things and how physics changes the shape of nature. Why are things in nature shaped the way they are? How do birds fly? Why do bird nests look the way they do? How do woodpeckers peck? Why can't trees grow taller than they are? Why is grass skinny and hollow? What is the wood science behind musical instruments? Questions such as these are the subject of biomimetic research and they have been the focus of investigation in this course for the past three years.

Technical Requirements

Special software is required to use some of the files in this course: .rm.

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Prof. Lorna Gibson

Course Meeting Times

One session / week
2 hours / session



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