5 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Prioritize Mental Health

In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, I want to discuss the importance of taking care of yourself as an entrepreneur.

Oftentimes, as an entrepreneur, taking care of your own mental health can feel like the last thing on your list. In an environment where you’re focused on creating a successful business, it’s easy to put your well-being on the backburner. Some may even see this as a badge of honor.

The numbers are concerning. A report found that 72% of entrepreneurs experience some type of mental health issue and are “significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance-abuse conditions (12%), and bipolar diagnosis (11%).” Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs feel the need to hide these issues, for fear that it will affect their business and their personal lives.

Thankfully, the conversation around mental health is shifting. Healthcare professionals are moving away from a separation of mind and body to an integration, understanding that mental health is just as important as physical health. Companies are creating empathetic policies that encourage a more open and understanding workplace. Most importantly, people all over the world are working to erase the stigma behind mental health issues, including CEOs, grad students, Greek police officers, and Florida public schools

If you’re an entrepreneur or startup founder (or just want to concentrate more on your well-being), here are my top tips for balancing your mental health with your growing business and working through the “founder’s blues”:

1. Leave space to reflect.

Throughout your week, schedule time to simply hit the pause button. Take this time to breathe and reflect on your week. What have you accomplished? Where can you improve? Ask yourself these questions, but be sure to speak to yourself in a kind way. We are often our own worst critic, and it’s important to recognize that harsh self-talk is linked to depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

This time for self-reflection is essential for everyone, but especially if your schedule is jam-packed. In a start-up world that’s focused on external factors like funding, hiring, and planning, it’s easy to ignore internal factors. When the internal is ignored, recognizing and managing emotions can be difficult. It’s important to prioritize time and stick to your schedule.

2. Pay attention to burnout.

In the world of entrepreneurship, burnout is a real issue. The World Health Organization has recognized burnout as an official disorder. Oftentimes the symptoms are ignored or minimized, which can lead to more worrisome issues down the line.

If you notice symptoms such as feeling cynical about your job or emotionally drained by your work, don’t ignore them. They are an important sign that you need a break, and you should honor that by taking some time off to recalibrate, even if it’s just for a day or two. You will come back to your work refreshed.

3. Manage and delegate.

Entrepreneurs wear several hats, especially when they’re near the starting line. Over time, you may feel like your life is a constant juggling act, so it’s imperative to find balance. Manage your time and stick to a schedule to alleviate any stress, and delegate whenever possible.

If you find that certain tasks cause you more stress than others, find ways to change the tasks to be less demanding, or find someone on your team you can delegate them to. If that is not an option, consider outsourcing to an agency or contractor.

4. Be mindful of your physical health.

You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to be an entrepreneur, but it’s important to treat your body well. Is your diet giving you the energy and nutrients you need throughout the day? Are you making time for moderate exercise? Unfortunately, running from meeting to meeting doesn’t count. Physical exercise is crucial to mental health. Any type of exercise will help promote improved mental health, however the social aspects of team sports have the strongest effect.

Don’t focus on perfection. Instead, do what you can to eat nutritious foods and stay active. If you’re able to hire a personal trainer and nutritionist, do so. If that isn’t possible for you at this time, there are a plethora of resources online that can help you get where you need to be, such as Lifesum for nutrition and Fitocracy for personal training. 

5. Find support.

You may feel alone in this, but that is far from the truth. As mentioned before, 72% of entrepreneurs have reported dealing with some mental health issue. Many of them have created communities and groups that deal with these problems together and support each other. If you feel comfortable, join one of these communities and learn from others who are dealing with similar issues. Search online or ask your network for these communities or use an online service like 7 Cups of Tea to find anonymous support.

On a related note, consider finding a therapist who works for you, online or in-person. There are mental health professionals who specialize in executive leadership, and they can help you through all the ups and downs that you may experience.  

Mental health does not discriminate; in fact, it affects one in four people globally. It isn’t always easy to talk about, but that’s rapidly changing due to increasing awareness and leaders who are open about their journey. By prioritizing your own health, you can inspire and encourage others on your team and in your community to do the same.

Entrepreneurship Innovation

Are you ready for the future?

As the pace of change continues to accelerate, one thing is certain. The future will look very different than it does today. I believe this accelerated innovation and the Megatrends driving it will have a sustained, transformative impact on the world in the years ahead — on businesses, societies, economies, cultures and our personal lives.
 
This change is inevitable, and those that anticipate and embrace it will be the revolutionaries of the experience age. In fact, adapting to the changes is the difference between leading change and being led by it. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill. No silver bullet. It takes dedication and thought. So, how can you lead the way and future-proof yourself?

1. Adopt an innovation mindset

When I was in college, a single computer took up an entire room. Yes, am dating myself a little here…. Now, we hold computing devices in the palms of our hands. In fact, we have more computing power in our pockets than all of NASA had when they put the first man on the moon in 1969.
 
Innovation is significantly shaping our world. And it’s the number #1 topic I’m most frequently asked about. Whether it’s at the HP offices, at speaking engagements, or when I attend conferences, people want to know how they can tap into their own inner innovator, and spark innovation at their offices.
 
Innovation is an attitude. As an innovator you need to believe you can change the world, that if you keep working on a problem you will eventually find a solution, and that anything is possible. Innovators have a passion to make things happen. They relentlessly take action.

Start with small things. Have lunch every week with someone outside of your team. Talk to them about what they do and how they do it. Innovation is about leveraging diversity, and the more you know about more things, the better you will be able to innovate.

Write down your ideas. Sometimes the simple act of writing things down can bring your ideas to life. You never know when that list will come in handy.
 
Once you become comfortable with those, move on to larger mindset shifts.

Question your assumptions about everything. Many times, the “right” way to do things can be altered and improved, it just takes someone to question the underlying assumptions. Ask yourself, how can this be improved? How can we make it better?

2. Keep learning or unlearning

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” –Eric Hoffer

If you have a fixed mindset, your qualities are carved in stone. If you lack a skill, you will continue to lack it. However, when you adopt a growth mindset, you can grow and change through persistence and experience. With a fixed mindset, you can be easily overwhelmed with the future’s uncertainty, but the future belongs to those who can adopt a growth mindset and keep learning.

I’m currently learning about Quantum Computing by reading “In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality”.

I’m very interested in how the line between science and philosophy is blurring. It seems where science doesn’t have all the answers (e.g. quantum mechanics and the true nature of reality), philosophy comes back to the fore to help us imagine the possibilities that we hope science might one day prove out. Consider Einstein’s original thought experiment about sitting on the end of a light beam (philosophy) and how that led him to the special theory of relativity (science). Both are equally important for charting the human future in a world of accelerating change and technology.

3. Collaborate

A Nielsen study examined the impact of collaboration in the development stage of innovation. It showed ideas developed by teams of three or more people have 156% greater appeal with consumers than those developed by just one or two people who played a hands-on role.

Ideas developed by teams of three or more people have 156% greater appeal with consumers than those developed by just one or two people who played a hands-on role.

Connect with people in your field (current or desired) by discovering how they think and their vision of the future. When you get to know one another, you feel more comfortable sharing ideas and voicing your opinions, creating healthy collaboration.

4. Pay attention to emerging technology trends

Stay current on trends by reading, watching, and listening to sources you trust. As a futurist, my job requires a keen understanding of how the world around us is evolving, the global forces that are dramatically changing the landscape of markets and industries, and trends that are reshaping customer expectation. 
 
At HP, we’ve formalized our analysis and forecasting process into a body of work we call Megatrends, a systematic effort to identify the global technological, economic, and social currents that are influencing how people will live and work around the world in the future. Take a look at this year’s report that looks at how innovation and disruptions in economics, data, automation, and energy impact megatrends.

Personally, I stay on top of trends by reading the latest technology news, speaking with customers and industry pundits, paying attention to university and academic research areas, monitoring venture investing trends and start-up activity. I also draw from my personal experiences, media coverage, and public data sources.

It’s important to have a vision and desired outcomes in mind. Then explore how trends and technologies can help you realize those outcomes. Ongoing problems the world is facing, like poverty and climate change, cannot be solved with short-term thinking. If we want to move forward and create the future we want, we must adopt long-term, futuristic thinking.

Once you’ve identified the trends, come up with proactive statements about where you think the future is going. This is something that true disrupters do. So … ask outlandish questions, free your mind, and push yourself outside of your box. The future is yours to create.

5. Give yourself a break

After all that, are you feeling a bit frazzled? We spend hours pondering how we can stay ahead of this change instead of being led by it. Even if we could predict the future perfectly (which, of course, we can’t), we need to be willing to reinvent ourselves continuously as all of this change in our world occurs.
 
It’s okay to take a break from future-proofing yourself. Read a book. Take a walk outside. Listen to your favorite music. Give your brain a chance to breath and recharge.

Our future will be transformed by people like you, who are strategic thinkers, quick to innovate, and passionate. What do you think? What skills or mindsets will we need to adopt today for the future? Sound off below. 👇

Blog Innovation Trends Videos

5 lessons I learned from the Kokoda Track

I recently completed the Kokoda Track with a group of my oldest and best friends. For those of you who don’t know, the Track is a historical trail in Papua New Guinea. When I was preparing for my trip to Kokoda, I knew that I was in for a long journey full of challenges. An eight-day trek on difficult terrain was bound to test me. It was also bound to teach me important lessons that I could take back to everyday life. So, without further ado, here are the most important lessons I learned while powering through the Kokoda Track:

1. Be prepared.

As I previously talked about, I committed to preparing for this trip. I knew it was going to test me physically and mentally, and I wanted to give myself the best possible tools and training to get me through it successfully. I hiked long miles on weekends and did hours of research on the best gear to take and what to expect on the Track. By doing this, I made sure that I was well-prepared for the different obstacles that I might face. Training ahead of time was key to my success on the Track and researching what I was in for made sure I didn’t underestimate the difficult roads ahead.

This is a lesson easily applicable to business and entrepreneurship. When you’re vying for success, prepare for success. This isn’t always the same as making detailed plans ahead of time, plans always change, but being prepared is also key to being able to adapt to unexpected changes or roadblocks to achieve your objective. When walking into an important meeting or launching a new start-up, make sure that you’ve put in the work to be successful.

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2. Choose your team well.

I was very lucky to be surrounded by some of my oldest and closest friends on this trek, so when any one of us was struggling, we knew we could turn to each other for support and motivation. To have that support is an essential part of success in any aspect of life, so when times get tough, make sure you’re doing it with the right team.

People often say that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Are you surrounding yourself with the right people? Whether it’s in business or your personal life, you want to make sure that you have a support system that is empowering.

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3. Don’t be afraid of hard times.

It’s natural to want to avoid difficult times, but it’s in those moments that you experience the most growth. Embrace those moments and use them to build a stronger, better team. Throughout the trek, each of us went through struggles and doubts, but as the trek went on, we became closer because we were able to rely on one another.

Hard times can always teach you something. When you’re going through something rough, take a moment to think about what you’re learning. How can you apply this to future situations? How can this make you a better version of yourself? Embrace that learning and use it to improve.

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4. Balance

Though our journey was extremely physically challenging, it was also very mentally challenging. It was crucial to spend time getting centered before setting off on each day’s trek. Achieving and maintaining that level of balance was a constant battle, and it’s important to pace yourself.

Do you take time each day to check in with yourself? Would you consider yourself in balance? If not, try starting your morning with a brief morning meditation or just find some quiet time during the day to center yourself. There a number of resources that can help you with this, like Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier. A strong, healthy mindset is important to taking on any new challenge.

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5. Celebrate success.

When we walked through the end of the Kokoda arches, it was very emotional. We looked back on what we’d accomplished and truly took a moment to reflect on what we’d just been through. It was a huge achievement that we’d managed together, and we congratulated each other on our success. Then, we got beers.

Don’t be afraid to celebrate your successes, big or small. Every day is full of challenges, and with the right mindset you can crush them all. So be sure to treat yourself and your team when you reach new milestones, and then get excited for the next one!

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What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you handle it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Blog Innovation

Answers to 4D Printing’s Top Questions

Did you know the 4D printing industry is expected to be worth upwards of $537 million by 2025 and grow by a CAGR of 42.95% between 2019 and 2025? This is being driven by the need to reduce the costs of manufacturing and processing in the face of an increasing focus to ensure a sustainable environment. Today, I’m diving into the top 4 questions about 4D printing:

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  1. What is the difference between 3D and 4D printing?

    4D printing is similar to 3D printing since it uses the same techniques of computer-programmed “printing” of layered materials to create a three-dimensional object. However, during the fabrication process of 4D printing, the printed produce reacts to external stimuli — heat, water, chemical, pressure, etc. — to self-assemble or change

    It’s a further evolution of 3D printing and is set to completely alter how we create and produce materials by adding the dimension of transformation over time into the creation process.
  2. How does 4D printing work?

    4D printing involves 3D printing objects that can self-assemble and transform based on some external stimuli. For example, a table that assembles itself when you touch a part, or an airplane wing that transforms with wind speed, or a temperature-activated cardio stent.

    In order to make something “4D” — assemble itself or change precisely under certain conditions — a precise geometric code is used based on the object’s angles and dimensions, as well as measurements that dictate how it should change shape when interacting with outside forces.

    It’s all about self-assembly. The ability to program a particular area of the material and be able to activate it through heat, water, chemical reaction, pressure and many other external influences to actually do self-assembly. Altogether these represent what I believe will be the next industrial revolution and a fundamental transformation in manufacturing overall.

  3. What is 4D printing used for?

    4D printing technology is not merely a novelty, but a necessity due to increasing urbanization caused by world population growth that is expected to reach 8 billion people over the next 30 years. This will cause an increase in “megacities — or cities with populations over 10 million people — from 10 in 1990 to 41 over the next ten years. This rapid urbanization will put an incredible demand on manufacturing and the distribution of materials.

    Numerous organizations are pouring money in 4D printing research and development, including Airbus SAS who is using 4D-related “smart” material that reacts to temperature to cool jet engines and a wing that morphs according to aerodynamic conditions to decrease air resistance. Briggs Automotive Company is developing a morphable wing for its supercar that can adjust to external weather conditions and automatically adjust itself to provide maximum downforce to the car.

    As many of you know, I am a drone aficionado. When I saw this research, I was excited. Engineers at Rutgers University–New Brunswick are fabricating smart materials in 4D that will transform according to their environment. This leads to shock-absorbing materials that will change as needed for use in aircraft or drone design for parts like wings that need to self-alter for varying performance.

    4D printing will also have a profound impact on healthcare of the future. It could be used for tissue engineering, self-assembling human-scale biomaterials, design of nanoparticles, and nanorobots for chemotherapy.

    It doesn’t stop there. You’ll see 4D printing transform and disrupt a variety of industries including consumer products, healthcare, automotive, construction, and aerospace

Overall, how 4D printing evolves in the future is up to the innovators and makers of the world. We must remain open to fresh ideas, new tools, and collaboration from all industries

ICYMI: Answers to Industry 4.0’s Top Questions

Blog Innovation Trends

How I manage my to-do list with email: Part 2

In Part 1 I outlined a way to make sure:

  • You have a reliable way to archive all your email so you never have to worry about deleting an email again.
  • You have a way to unclutter your inbox.
  • You have a way to process your inbox.
  • You have a way to track everything you delegate and everything you are ‘waiting for’ via a Pending folder.

In this post I want to outline how to manage and track all of your next actions so you never have to worry about dropping the ball again.

As mentioned previously, efficiently processing your inbox involves doing one of four things with each email:

  • Read and delete. No action needed.
  • Do. If I think it will take me less than 2 mins to respond to an email, I will do it then and there and then delete.
  • Delegate. Forward and ask someone to do something based on the email, and then delete.  As per my previous post on this topic, remember to copy yourself when you delegate over email so you have a list of everything you’re waiting on someone for in your Pending folder!
  • Queue up for next action needed. These are the emails I need to spend more time on, and that I haven’t been able to delete, delegate or do within the 2 mins rule.

The focus of this post is on that last point, how to queue up things for next action needed.

One of the core tenants of “Getting Things Done” is to group all your next actions by context.  For example, there might be some things you can only do when you are at home.  When you’re not at home you don’t need to see those next actions because there’s nothing you can do about them.  However, when you are at home you do want to see them, because in that context (“I’m at home”) all of those next actions are fair game for follow-up.  Grouping all your next actions by context helps you focus on only the things you can do in that moment, without distracting yourself with all the things you can’t do in that moment.

Constructing Contexts

Everyone will have a different set of contexts they want to work across (see below for mine).  The trick here is to define those contexts in a way that makes sense for you and are as simple as possible.  It is also important to define them in such a way that each next action only goes into one context.  This keeps the overhead of managing next actions by context to a minimum. Here are mine:

Calls Calls I need to make when I have the time and am with my phone (typically when I’m driving)
Work Things I can only do when I’m physically at the office
Home Things I can only do when I’m physically at home
Errands Things I can only do when I’m out and about, typically near where I live
Laptop Things I need to do when I’m at my laptop (or on my phone)
Read Things I need to read
Agenda Things I need to talk to someone about in person or at an upcoming meeting
Someday Things not important to me now, but worth considering ‘someday’ when I have the time

The way that I implement this for my email is  by creating an email folder for each ‘context’ and then moving each ‘next action’ from my inbox to that folder.

Here are a few examples:

  • A friend emails me and wants to catch up. I simply drag the email from my inbox into my Call folder.
  • My wife emails me and asks if I can pick up paper towels. Into the Errands folder.
  • My colleague emails me and requests I review a presentation. Into the Laptop folder.
  • Someone sends me an interesting article on Vegemite. Into the Read folder it goes.
  • My boss emails me and says he wants to talk about an upcoming site visit. Into the Agenda folder for when I meet with him next.
  • Someone emails me to recommend walking the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea but I don’t have time to think about it now. Into the Someday folder. (More to come on that, later!)

Hopefully you get the idea.

Later, when I find myself out and about driving to the grocery store, I check my Errands folder and go buy paper towels.

When I meet with my boss I go to my Agendas folder to remind myself of all the things I need to speak with him about.

When I have a spare moment, I hit my Read folder for all the catch up reading I need to do, including how to make Vegemite at home.

Then, when I’m done with all my projects and have time to breathe, I check my Someday folder for new things to do.

Never drop the ball again.

Creating a Code

Now, the above works great when you are receiving emails and taking action on them, but what if you want to create and manage next actions for things not associated with an email you have received?  For example, you think of something you need to do at home, or you think of something you want to read.  How do you get those next actions into your email system?  Here’s what I do.

Let’s take a ‘work’ next action as an example.  If I want to remind myself to print a presentation the next time I’m in the office, I simply send myself an email with a Subject of “Print out presentation $w”.  I have a rule that looks for emails from myself with a “$w” in the subject line, and which then automatically moves that email into my Work folder.  Voila!  Next time I’m in the office I check my Work folder and there’s my next action to print out the presentation.

To break this down further, for each context:

  • Come up with a code you can put in the Subject for any next action you want to automatically move to the folder for that context.
  • Create a rule for the context that will look for that code as part of the Subject and then do the move.

For the example above the rule would look like this:

See below for the codes I use for all the contexts mentioned above.  All you need to do now is to create a rule for each code that is exactly the same as for the work example above, but with the corresponding code for each context.

Calls $c
Work $w
Home $h
Errands $e
Laptop $l
Read $r
Agenda $a
Someday $s

With the above in place you can also handle the following scenarios:

  • Someone sends you an email to ask you for something, and when you respond to say, “I’m on it!” you tag the subject with “$l” so your ‘next action’ is automatically put in your Laptop folder for follow-up. This saves you from having to respond AND manually moving the original email to Laptop yourself.  Yes, it’s only a few extra steps, but over the course of a day or a week or a year it all adds up.  And these posts are all about being an email ninja, not an email grasshopper. 🙂


Final Reminders

Now, just two more things and we’re done, but these are very important to remember.

First, the ordering of your rules in your email system matters.  It’s important that the first rule is the rule to move all received emails to your Received folder.  This ensures you will continue to archive all received emails as explained in my first post.  Then come the rules to manage context based next actions as explained above.  Finally, the last rule should be the rule to manage Pending emails; those emails you copy yourself on when you want to track or monitor that something gets done.  Ordering your rules in this way ensures they are applied in the right order so that the system works.

Second, you will need to update your Pending rule so that it doesn’t also move all these next action emails to your Pending folder.  To do this, simply exclude all these emails from the rule as shown below.

That’s it!  You now have a way to track next actions by context.  Whenever you complete a next action you can simply delete it out of the context folder and move on to the next one!

At this point:

  • You have a reliable way to archive all your email so you never have to worry about deleting an email again.
  • You have a way to unclutter your inbox.
  • You have a way to process your inbox.
  • You have a way to track everything you delegate and everything you are ‘waiting for’ via a Pending folder.
  • You have a way to track next actions by context.

Stay tuned for part 3 on how to use this system to manage projects and deliverables that require lots of ‘next actions’ to complete, with maybe a few additional advanced techniques to move you into black belt territory.

Blog Innovation

How I manage my to-do list with email: Part 1

Automate email management so you have time for more meaningful tasks

Who doesn’t want to be more productive? When the end of your day rolls around, are you looking at your to-do list wishing you could cross off more items? In my experience, I’ve discovered the most productive people do things differently. They use their time more efficiently and often achieve better results.

Blog Innovation Trends

BioConvergence: How nature-inspired technology is transforming our world

After about 4.5 billion years of solid research and development, nature has developed some ingenious solutions. From transporting water and nutrients up a 300-foot-tall redwood tree to defying gravity, nature has developed some of the best known methods for life to adapt and thrive.

Researchers and scientists have been increasingly keen to study nature in search of new innovations. Sometimes, they simply present themselves. Velcro, for example was created after a Swiss scientist went on a hike in the Alps and noticed that burdock burrs were stuck on his clothes and his dog. It took him 10 years to develop velcro, but now he’s resting comfortably having given the world a new way to stick.

BioConvergence is, put simply, the study of nature and the application of natural processes and phenomena to innovation. Technically it’s the convergence of biological, physical, and computing technologies inspired by nature. This field is now developing some of the most exciting and innovative developments in science and technology, including new materials and new fabrication processes for more efficient and resilient products.

 

Researchers are drawing on BioConvergence to find efficient, diverse, and ingenious approaches to problem-solving. New solutions are needed now more than ever, as the world’s population is expected to expand to an estimated 8.5 billion people by 2030, including 1 billion new people joining the middle class and consuming more resources. Concerns over sustainability as it relates to these projected needs are prompting new approaches to how we harness energy, consume resources and produce products.

The following are some examples of how BioConvergence is transforming the world as we know it.

Nature-inspired fabrication

In a future where demand could outweigh resources, alternative materials and fabrication methods may be needed–and soon. While previously the majority of our product manufacturing relied on a subtractive and replicative fabrication, we are now seeing increasing interest and use of additive manufacturing processes, that will give us greater control and less waste in product fabrication.

This form of manufacturing allows us to spend more time focusing on the detail of materials properties and science we are actually using to make fabrication and manufacturing more efficient and to increase throughput. It also inspires us to create products with varying material customization and personalization. It’s akin to the organization of cellulose fibers in the branch of a tree give the tree branch flexibility and yield. These properties are substantially different from the material in the trunk of the same tree. It’s the same wood but their mechanical properties are different based on the function of that region of the wood. We are moving into a world where instead of removing material, we add details needed by modifying the material rather than assembling another part.

Additive manufacturing, is an area HP is helping to pioneer and advance with its Jet Fusion technology. With HP’s Jet Fusion technology, users can control a material’s properties, such as color, mechanical strength,texture, elasticity, electrical and thermal conductivity, index of refraction, opacity, and more. This technology allows for the manufacture of parts with different qualities from common material. A part can have durable, hard surfaces with low friction where contact and wear will occur, and a differing index of refraction in another area.

Bioinspired materials

Bioinspired materials are synthetic materials whose structure, properties or function mimic those of natural materials or living matter. Examples of bioinspired materials are light-harvesting photonic materials that mimic photosynthesis, structural composites that imitate the structure of nacre (aka mother-of-pearl), and metal actuators inspired by the movements of jellyfish.

With the rise of 3D printing, greater inspiration is being gleaned from nature to construct new materials, substitute existing materials and develop new fabrication processes.

“Biological systems have clearly shown that large numbers of molecules, structures, and systems in living organisms possess attractive materials properties that are beyond the reach of current nonbiological synthetic approaches,” states the Materials Research to Meet 21st-Century Defense Needs paper by the National Academies Press. “Many of these molecules, structures, systems, and natural fabrication processes could serve as the basis for synthetic materials with enhanced properties.”

The bones of a bird have inspired new forms of concrete. While a bird’s bones are somewhat hollow, they are highly resilient and efficient, rather than fragile. The Technical University Munich (TUM) is experimenting with 3D printing to create lightweight cement pipes with a network of internal supports, similar to a bird’s bones. With a focus on structural efficiency vs. structural volume. Meeting physical requirements with minimalistic design.

“The design was inspired by the bone of a bird: very thin and light, but still very stable,” said Dr. Klaudius Henke, TUM Chair of Timber Structures and Building Construction, “It would be impossible to make it using traditional methods. 3D printing will change architecture. The technology not only allows more versatile shaping, but also more variety, since each component can be individually designed without incurring any additional costs.”

DNA digital data storage

The natural world is also inspiring researchers pondering our growing data problem. By 2040, the demand for global memory is expected to exceed the projected supply of silicon, the raw material for flash memory, according to some scientists. This is based on projected use of data, which continues to be consumed each year at an exponential rate.

Scientists are seeking solutions by looking to nature’s most efficient storage unit: DNA. DNA is three dimensional, lending vastly more storage space per unit area compared to conventional hard drives, which store information on a two-dimensional surface. Through DNA digital storage, scientists found a way to store 215 petabytes, or 215 million gigabytes– roughly equivalent to all the data on the internet — in a single gram of DNA. DNA is made of nucleotides: chemical “building blocks” of phosphate, sugar and nitrogen. As a raw material, it is highly compact and can last hundreds of thousands of years if kept in a cool, dry place.

“DNA won’t degrade over time like cassette tapes and CDs, and it won’t become obsolete,” said Yaniv Erlich, a computer scientist at Columbia University.

Information has been extracted from DNA in bones that are 700,000 years old. And, this memory uses 100 million times less energy than storing data electronically in flash.

Energy through osmosis

A 300-foot coastal redwood tree transports water and nutrients from deep in the ground, through its trunk, out and up its bark and leaves via its nutrient transport system. This incredible feat has inspired scientists to harness the energy of osmotic reactions to produce renewable energy.

In Tofte, Norway, a prototype power plant was created that uses osmotic processes to generate carbon-free electricity. For this power plant, energy is generated as a result of the concentration gradient in places where freshwater meets dense salt water, as it does along coastlines all over the world.

“We critically need more green energy in the world,” said Skilhagen, Statkraft’s Head of Osmotic Power. “Osmotic can be a valuable contributor. It’s a base load renewable energy. You can make electricity from the combination of fresh water and sea water.”

Statkraft’s plant pulls salt water and fresh water from nearby sources and places them into adjoining chambers separated with a thin, permeable membrane. The freshwater forces its way through to the salt water, creating pressure on the salt water side that turns an energy turbine.

One day osmotic power could generate 1700 TWh of electricity per year, which is about half of the European Union’s current consumption, Skilhagen believes.

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