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An Engineering-to-Biology Thesaurus for Engineering Design

[+] Author Affiliations
Jacquelyn K. S. Nagel, Robert B. Stone

Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Daniel A. McAdams

Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Paper No. DETC2010-28233, pp. 117-128; 12 pages
  • ASME 2010 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 5: 22nd International Conference on Design Theory and Methodology; Special Conference on Mechanical Vibration and Noise
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada, August 15–18, 2010
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division and Computers in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4413-7 | eISBN: 978-0-7918-3881-5
  • Copyright © 2010 by ASME


Engineering design is considered a creative field that involves many activities with the end goal of a new product that fulfills a purpose. Utilization of systematic methods or tools that aid in the design process is recognized as standard practice in industry and academia. The tools are used for a number of design activities (i.e., idea generation, concept generation, inspiration searches, functional modeling) and can span across engineering disciplines, the sciences (i.e., biology, chemistry) or a non-engineering domain (i.e., medicine), with an overall focus of encouraging creative engineering designs. Engineers, however, have struggled with utilizing the vast amount of biological information available from the natural world around them. Often it is because there is a knowledge gap or terminology is difficult, and the time needed to learn and understand the biology is not feasible. This paper presents an engineering-to-biology thesaurus, which we propose affords engineers, with limited biological background, a tool for leveraging nature’s ingenuity during many steps of the design process. Additionally, the tool could also increase the probability of designing biologically-inspired engineering solutions. Biological terms in the thesaurus are correlated to the engineering domain through pairing with a synonymous function or flow term of the Functional Basis lexicon, which supports functional modeling and abstract representation of any functioning system. The second version of the thesaurus presented in this paper represents an integration of three independent research efforts, which include research from Oregon State University, the University of Toronto, and the Indian Institute of Science, and their industrial partners. The overall approach for term integration and the final results are presented. Applications to the areas of design inspiration, comprehension of biological information, functional modeling, creative design and concept generation are discussed. An example of comprehension and functional modeling are presented.

Copyright © 2010 by ASME



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