The Reciprocal Biomimicry Initiative – Opens March 7

Downtown Gallery
March 7 – June 4, 2017

Engineers borrow designs from nature in a process called biomimicry. The Reciprocal Biomimicry Initiative by artist Jonathon Keats is an attempt to return the favor, providing nature with the benefits of human technology and humorously addressing our relationship with the natural world.

Related Event:

Conversation with Jonathon Keats
Wednesday, March 8, 6:00pm
Bucknell Hall

Join us for a conversation with experimental philosopher and conceptual artist, Jonathon Keats about The Reciprocal Biomimicry Initiative and the potential for adaptation of human technologies to address key problems faced by other species. The presentation will be followed by a reception at the Downtown Gallery at 8pm. (Shuttles will be provided.)

More about The Reciprocal Biomimicry Initiative:

In recent years, engineers have designed body armor based on beetle shells and applied the aerodynamics of kingfisher beaks to bullet trains. “Biomimicry” is the buzzword, and the principle has served us well, but biomimicry rarely benefits the organisms whose innovations we steal. On the contrary, humanity only uses these technologies to commandeer more of the planet.

To compensate, Jonathon Keats has founded the Reciprocal Biomimicry Initiative, the world’s first program dedicated to systematically adapting human technologies to benefit other organisms. This exhibition showcases plans and models for eight representative innovations.

One pilot project proposes to provide migratory birds with GPS, escorting flocks with drones that update flight routes as climate change wreaks havoc on customary breeding grounds. Connected to a global climate-sensing network that can identify optimal terrain, the drones will communicate with flocks by manipulating birds’ internal compasses with powerful electromagnets.

Another pilot project envisions wind farms for forests, providing trees with an alternative energy source in case solar-powered photosynthesis is diminished by increased air pollution or cloudiness. As climate change makes the future less predictable, long-term survival may be a matter of resilience.

Although Keats has pursued each innovation rigorously, he holds out the possibility that reciprocal biomimicry may ultimately prove unnecessary. “Technological advancement is one way of overriding previous technological excesses,” he says. “We’re quite good at it, and reciprocal biomimicry can certainly share our bounty with other creatures.

“An alternative would be to ask how these species avoid the evolutionary end-game of self-perpetuating technological acceleration. That’s a form of biomimicry that might benefit all organisms.”

Order the The Reciprocal Biomimicry Initiative exhibition catalog online.

GPS For Birds: Autonomous gliders fly with flocks of birds, guiding them on alternate migration routes and directing them to alternate nesting sites as climate change alters customary habitats. Flocks are navigated by distorting magnetic fields with strong electromagnets attached to the airplane fuselage. In this conceptual model, a magnet has been attached to a toy airplane, influencing the compasses beneath it.

Fiber Optics for Corals: Fiber optics facilitate photosynthesis in corals, providing an alternate energy source when turbid or polluted oceans prevent adequate sunlight from passing through the water. This conceptual model shows how the fiber optics cables might be illuminated by LEDs that are powered by photovoltaics on the ocean surface.

Sex Toys for Flowers: Micro-vibrators provide titillation for flowers that have to be artificially pollinated as honeybee populations are decimated. These botanical sex toys can be battery or solar powered. This model shows several sex toys attached to a plant. A dismantled micro-vibrator is also displayed.


Urban Camouflage for Reptiles: Camouflage designed by the military for urban combat allows reptiles to elude detection in cities as urbanization overtakes their natural habitats. In this model, a turtle wears a camouflage shell covering.

Aqua Lungs for Sea Snails: A life support system allows sea snails to migrate to land when ocean acidification imperils their shells. A second version allows land snails to migrate to the ocean in case of extreme acid rain. This conceptual model shows the valves used to maintain the required microenvironment inside the snail’s shell.


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Gallery Locations

The Samek Gallery
3rd Floor, Elaine Langone Center
Bucknell University

The Downtown Gallery
416 Market Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837