From the Sidewalk to the Moon: Insect Biodiversity as a Source of Inspiration for Aerospace Design

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Clint Penick, Ph.D.
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology
Kennesaw State University

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Insects rank among the most biodiverse groups on Earth with nearly 1 million species described. Understanding patterns of insect diversity and the significant roles insects play in healthy ecosystems has been the primary focus of my lab. But insect diversity also has significance in the realm of human innovation through the field of bio-inspired design. Insects have long served as models for human inspiration drawing back to the days of the Roman empire when scholars first remarked on the material properties of insect-built honeycomb. Honeycomb has since found widespread application in engineering and architecture, particularly in the aerospace industry where maintaining high strength-to-weight ratios is essential. Here I will discuss ongoing work in my lab on features of honeycomb built by bees and wasps that can improve strength-to-weight ratios of manufactured comb. I will then discuss work on the evolution of ant cuticle textures as well as their potential function in abrasion resistance. Each of these projects highlights how comparative approaches in bio-inspired design can leverage insect diversity to solve human challenges and strengthen collaborations between biologists and engineers.  

Dr. Clint Penick is an Assistant Professor at Kennesaw State University whose research focuses on social insect ecology and evolution. In addition to studying how environmental change impacts insect biodiversity, he investigates what we can learn from insects through projects in bio-inspired design. His work in bio-inspired design has been supported through collaborations with engineers and industrial designers as well as funding from diverse sources that include NASA and Google. 

Host: David Hu, Ph.D.


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