Meet a Biomimic: Julia Chiang

Written by Leon Wang

Our next guest on the Meet a Biomimic series is Julia Chiang. Julia is from Taiwan and works as a public relations manager for an agriculture company. She spends much of her time doing outreach as the Secretary General of Biomimicry Taiwan. Some of her recent efforts have been to translate the film “Biomimicry” by Tree Media and other news for native Mandarin speakers. This is no small feat considering Mandarin is the world’s most common language with approximately 14.4% of the human population! Read on to learn more about Julia.

What is your current job and how do you incorporate biomimicry into your work or life?

I am the Public Relations Manager at AgriDragon Biotech and also the Secretary General in Biomimicry Taiwan. My main job is to reach out about biomimicry in Taiwan as much as I can, to help spread the meme. The agriculture company I work for has developed its own irrigation system by emulating functions of the rainforest and human body. Without using any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, we are able to achieve both good quantity and quality of crops while vitalizing the soil. Our company attributes this to nature’s wisdom. Luckily, when sharing biomimicry, I can introduce and discuss this agricultural system and vice versa. It provides a realistic and easy-to-understand example. Nature rewards cooperation, and I see my work doing outreach for Biomimicry Taiwan and AgriDragon to be an example of mutualism. In addition to my job, I am making an effort to seed the initial network for biomimicry practice in Taiwan. Our country is just starting to develop its own successful biomimicry stories. Through events and implementation on agriculture, I hope we can gradually build up a platform fit for everyone, just like nature does for the living organisms on earth.

In our culture, learning from nature is a well-known ideology. Laozi says “Humans follow the principle of Earth/ground; Earth follows the principle of Heaven/sky; Heaven follows Dao, and Dao follows the principle of Nature.” We learned this philosophy early in our schooling, yet seldom (or forget to) adopt it when we grow up. Now I incorporate both biomimicry and ancient philosophy into my life by asking “what would nature do and why?”

How did you get to where you are today? What paths led you to biomimicry?

One day when we were speaking to a university professor, he was amazed by the idea of AgriDragon Biotech’s agricultural system and told us this kind of concept is called 仿生 (fang sheng, which means biomimicry in Chinese). Ever since then, I looked into biomimicry and eventually stumbled upon Janine Benyus and her inspiring TED talks.

Taiwan is a small island country but with rich biodiversity. Biomimicry seems to be so fit for Taiwan: we are surrounded by various mentors to learn from and the deep philosophy to learn from (not just about) nature actually exists in our culture. We invited Janine to come to Taiwan not only to visit our biomimetic agriculture system but also share stories in sustainability and biomimicry from around the world to inspire our people. Luckily, this event was supported by Biotechnology Industry Study Centre of Taiwan Institute of Economic Research as well as some universities, providing us with the opportunity to get connected with some of the professors doing biomimetic projects in Taiwan. At the end of 2014, Biomimicry Taiwan was born, and our story begins.

How are you making an impact?

Biomimicry, biomimetics, and bionic are all translated into “fang sheng (仿生)” in the Chinese language. In Taiwan, when most people learn about the term biomimicry, they either have no idea about what it is or think it means bionic (robot, hand, leg, etc.). After some events, communications on Facebook, and the implementation of my company’s biomimicry agriculture system, more and more people are beginning to understand the meaning of biomimicry and how it could help shape our sustainable future. We also get some positive interest from school teachers who would like to introduce biomimicry into their classes. Some teachers and researchers already teach these concepts in their classes or are involved in biomimetic design. The establishment of Biomimicry Taiwan could be a supporting platform to help share everyone’s efforts on biomimicry to better serve more people’s needs. Recently we translated the new film starring Janine Benyus called Biomimicry (by Tree Media, supported by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation) and added Chinese subtitles. We received positive feedback from people all over in widely different fields. It’s still early to say we have made an impact, but we have certainly been steadily seeding and spreading the meme.

As we move forward, our approach will focus on spreading the biomimicry meme among high schools and college students by encouraging them to participate in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. In addition, we will cooperate with some organizations such as science education centers, botanical gardens, and zoos to generate exhibitions and outreach programs. The purpose is to inspire more local biomimicry applications to solve challenges in Taiwan. I will also leverage the success in biomimetic agriculture to inspire industrial, business, and government workers to look towards nature for solutions. This example provides a clearer picture on how biomimicry can help us achieve more sustainable industries and businesses.

What kind of people are you looking to collaborate with?

I welcome people from all areas come to us and say, hey, let’s work out something to make our society and world more sustainable — socially, environmentally and economically (and even better function like nature does). One time, a student whose major is literature came to ask about the connection between biomimicry and literature and how could she could get involved in biomimicry. That was the moment I felt excited about the unlimited potential of interdisciplinary collaboration when embracing biomimicry.

We would love to reach more school teachers and university professors who are interested in interdisciplinary work and want to give biomimicry a try. Also, agriculture itself involves multiple disciplines and could lead to a need for very diverse teams. For example in building a greenhouse, we could involve people from life science, mechanics, chemistry, architecture, etc. And so, we are looking for people who would like to collaborate in a biomimicry agriculture project (urban or rural).

What have been some of the most helpful resources for you?

The Biomimicry Institute, AskNature, and our global networks all provide good resources and examples to learn and share. Not to mention, going outside is definitely a must-have. Biomimicry Taiwan is a young organization and we are still building our own resource bank. In the future, we would like to have a platform through which people, especially those who speak Chinese, can connect and access relevant academic papers, R&D references, applications, and industry success stories easily. Some ancient philosophy has also been a helpful resource for me to include in my outreach.