Sunday, November 30, 2008

“How Would A Butterfly Inspire Your Next Design?”

“Imagine if buildings were as self-sufficient as living organisms,” says Stacy Malkan with the Biomimicry Institute. “If they could gather water, filter air, and adapt to local climate conditions. Imagine if the natural world could teach us everything we need to know about sustainable, efficient design.” Imagine…

Well, Janine Benyus (founder of the Biomimicry Institute) imagined and she came up with the new word, Biomimicry. Biomimicry, which I recently covered, is the science of innovation based on nature’s “intelligence” or as Joel Makower eloquently said, “a design discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies.”

The Biomimicry Institute recently teamed up with Autodesk to launch, a cool database of “Nature-Inspired Design Strategies”. See my article in Suite 101 for details of the launch. is a useful resource for a growing community of professionals researching and applying the principles of biomimicry. These are solutions that nature has devised and “tested” over millions of years.

“Remember Velcro?” asks Bridgette Stephan of Inhabitat. “George de Mestral, a swiss engineer, created Velcro after going on a hike with his dog in the Alps and coming home covered in burs. He fashioned velcro after how the burs had hooks on them and could catch on anything with a loop.” Designers and architects are currently using design principles from Nature to create elegant solutions to every day pressing problems.

For instance, on the topic of self-cleaning: “the wings of many large-winged insects such as butterflies and many plant surfaces remain dirt-free without chemical detergents or expending energy, simply by how their complex surface topography interacts with the physics of water molecules. Lotusan® exterior coating uses these same micro-structural principles to regain its cleanliness automatically after the mere rinse of a rain shower” ( invites you to pose a query starting with “How would nature…” You add a verb, keyword, or short phrase and—BINGO! You have a wonderful selection of answers.

The database is still in its trial, "beta" phase, and they need to get the bugs out of the system yet. When I tried to input my question, I got an error message. But don’t let that stop you! Here’s what Joel Makower got when he typed in: "How would nature adhere". He received 11 responses, “each related to some "critter" — an insect, microbe, plant, animal, or other living thing tracked by the database.”

First there was the aphid, whose feet adhere to surfaces using "capillary adhesion," a process that also helps a tree frog glue himself vertically on your window. More clicks reveal potential products and application ideas, like: "Using capillary action to create nano-scale molds, cosmetics, and sunscreens that are not absorbed through the skin." There are also clickable references for deeper dives.

Then there was the cuttlefish, whose eggs adhere in seawater due to a gelatinous layer, offering potential for sealants for ships and wave energy structures; the Australian mistletoe, whose sticky berries could be models for adhesives used in pre-fabricated building products or furniture, or bonding applications for electronics; and mammals, whose white blood cells adhere tightly to target cells by increasing their surface area using arm-like projections and shape deformation, a process that "could be mimicked for any use that requires a close contact with a surface or adhesion."

And so on… Cool stuff... Keep your eye on this ever-growing dynamic and extremely helpful resource.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lemonade from Lemons

Zephyr over at Climate of Our Future gave me a cool Lemon! LOL! Well, actually, Lemonade... Well, both really! It's the award for making lemonade from lemons. Thanks, Deborah! I'm so grateful for this award. The award is given to those who show great Attitude and/or Gratitude. We are to choose 10 blogs to pass this award to . Ones who have inspired us in hopes that they will do the same for you. Here are the rules to this award:

• Put the logo on your blog or post.
• Nominate at least 10 blogs which show great Attitude and/or Gratitude!
• Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
• Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
• Share the love and link to this post and to the person from whom you received your award.

So, here's my list of excellent makers of lemonade:

Jean-Luc at The Federation

Bob Kingsley at Somerset Bob's Place

Heather at Footsteps

Kathleen at Diary of a Heretic

Dan at dcr Blogs

Adria at In Cinq

Brenda at DrowseyMonkey

more to come... Now, go make some lemonade!
And Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Role of Science in Science Fiction--Or... Nina Talks to Peggy

A while back, I was asked by Master Blogger, Peggy Kolm of Biology in Science Fiction, if I’d like to participate in an online discussion about the role of science in science fiction. Of course, I said YES! Not just because it was Peggy, but because both topics fascinate me and, considering that I am a scientist (limnologist) and a science fiction writer, I do have a little to say about both {sideways grin}…

Peggy provided some questions for science bloggers and others for science fiction bloggers. Considering that I’m slipstream in almost everything I do and am, she listed questions from both categories for me {giant grin}. Here are the questions followed by my answers:

What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why? I live, breath and even eat it sometimes. I was fascinated with SF from when I was little and read comic books. As a teenager, I discovered Ray Bradbury and it was a “love affair” with not only his metaphoric writing about humanity but with writing itself. I watch SF movies but no TV shows (because I don’t watch TV). My favorite movies are those which ask the deeper questions about us as a species and where we are going and, yes, how science propels us into new territory that forces us to ask even deeper questions about ourselves, God and the universe.

What do you see as SF’s role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science? SF, by its very nature, invokes science. And good SF accurately takes the premise of some real science and explores it to the realm of possibility and consequence. This genre gives us the opportunity to look at what may be, how we get there and what happens to us as a result. I am thinking of the writings of Greg Bear, Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Wilson, Kay Kenyon, William Gibson, Robert Silverberg, Isaac Asimov, Stanislav Lem, Ray Bradbury…The SF writer is both herald and conscience of science. It is a responsibility that some don’t realize they have when writing in this unique of genres. They are—we are—commentators of the present and reporters of the future. We often provide paradox; not unlike science, itself. Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, for example, was both uplifting and cynical at the same time, accurate and false, dark and light.

Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong? Great question! Yes, I have, particularly to do with my own work. My SF thriller, Darwin’s Paradox, examines—and even challenges— many scientific premises and theories within the context of “what would you do?” SF provides an excellent platform for scientific discussion and the deeper social and ethical questions that follow.

Why are you writing science fiction? What does the science add? I write SF because I am a scientist and science (particularly environmental science) is both familiar to me and fascinates me. I write this because it is one of my passions and I totally believe that a writer should write about something they are passionate about. Science provides the premise and the plot tools to throw characters into the realm of “other” or “unknown”, which is a wonderful way to study human nature. Science fiction, says Robert J. Sawyer, is about ideas that mean something to a society and a people. It is also about how we react and function with the challenges of the unknown. Science grounds the reader in reality while the writer takes them on a fictive journey. It is a little like doing a dry-run to prepare oneself for possibilities. Science fiction often turns into science fact.

How important is it to you that the science is right? What kind of resources do you use for accuracy? A friend of mine once told me that she read science fiction to learn something about science and was often disappointed when it wasn’t clear to her what was indeed fact and what was fiction. Good job for the writer, I thought! But what that brought to mind is the importance of getting the science right, at least for many readers. There is some poetic license, but for the most part, the closer to accurate science you get the more reliable your extrapolations will appear to the reader. If you’re sloppy about your science, then you might be sloppy in your observations about people and your story may suffer as a result. I use a lot of resources: anything from Google and Wikipedia to text books and scientific journals in the local library. I frequently read the popular science magazines to keep abreast of what’s new (e.g., Scientific American, Discover, etc.). I’ve gotten several short story ideas from an article in one of these.

Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers? Besides mine, The Alien Next Door, you mean? LOL! Well, I would recommend this neat site called Biology in Science Fiction. Hugo and Nebula award winning SF writer, Robert J. Sawyer, has a website full of good information on science, futurism and science fiction called SF Writer.

Follow our online discussion of "Science in Science Fiction" on the ScienceOnline09 conference wiki and post a comment, then come back here and post one. I'd love to hear your comments and ideas.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nina Goes to Chapters and Reads a Book

Lucia Gorea, host of “Poets and Writers of the New Millennium” invited me along with four cool poets to give a reading at Chapters Metrotown in Burnaby last Thursday. Thank you, Lucia! We had a great turn out and a great time too (and that’s not just because of the cake, pastry and chocolate! Although, it sure didn’t hurt). This is a monthly multicultural literary and artistic event and I was honored to be in the company of writers from Chile, India, France and Romania, not to mention Canada. The roster was impressive:

Poet Alejandro Mujica-Olea (Pearls from the Soul of a Political Prisoner) was born in Santiago, Chile, and came to Canada as a political refuge in 1975. He is co-founder of the World Poetry Reading Series in Vancouver and co-host of World Poetry on Co-op Radio, 102.7 FM. Alejandro read in both English and in Spanish to a rapt audience that appreciated both language renditions for their intensity and lyricism.

Pummy Kaur was born in India and teaches in the Gifted Education program in the British Columbia school district. After a stirring account of how she came to write her popular book, What Would Gandhi Do? Pummy read an excerpt that touched on our interconnectedness and made us think.

Jacqueline Maire, a retired nurse from France, read with a musical voice in English and in French from her collection of powerful poems on human rights, dignity and policy. Jacqueline was a featured poet at the Women in Film and Television Vancouver in 2008 and will be featured at the World Poetry Reading Series at the Vancouver Public Library.

Award-winning poet, Bernice Lever lives on the west coast of British Columbia, where she writes wonderfully lyrical poems about nature, love and the environment. She read some entrancing love poems from her collection, Never a Straight Line.
Our energetic host, Lucia Gorea, is an award-winning poet and best-selling writer, who received the World Poetry Award of Excellence for 2008. She authored four books and a collection of poetry, including Journey Through My Soul from which she read.

I was on last—just before the chocolates! I gave a rousing reading from my short story, Virtually Yours (from The Best of Neo-Opsis by Bundoran Press) to a crowd now stirring in their seats with eyes glued to the food. Okay…I lie…They were actually staring at my gorgeous book stand, given to me personally by my artist friend Teresa Young for tonight’s reading. It felt good, Teresa! Many thanks! My next appearance is at Chapters, Pinetree Village, on December 13th, a lucky day (Saint Lucia's Day and 12 days before Christmas!)

If you're a writer looking to get published you might like to check out my writing guidebook, The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What is Kirill?

A while back, the DBM Group (London, UK) along with Digital Studios Microsoft MSN, asked my opinion on a new Sci-fi project of theirs, a ten episode series called Kirill, which can be viewed here, along with a brief introduction to the concept. These ten episodes are only the prequel to a much bigger drama that Digital Studios are aiming to get off the ground for early next year.

After watching the first few episodes, I was very intrigued. In the first episode we are introduced to Kirill, a desperate scientist and inventor, locked in a room with computers and retro-machines of questionable function that he is constantly fiddling with, juri-rigging and fixing up with pathetic materials including the all-purpose duct tape. Kirill madly works on some experiment as the days and nights pass by and he continues his obsessive quest to find a contact—the right contact—to deliver an important message. The episodes are meted out in small vignettes and comprise mostly of Kirill’s dark thoughts in his humble cell as the plot unfolds in a fractal puzzle. What is his important message? Why is he being detained, by who and what is intended for him?

When I went on the Kirill website, I found the premise quite intriguing:

Three scientists have vanished.
Two bloggers are under siege.
One man has an urgent message to deliver.
None of them are safe.

In a nightmarish hideaway, a desperate fugitive is risking his life to get a warning through to the outside world…

… And on the streets of London, a journalist and a college drop-out try to find out why research labs are being invaded by soldiers, before they become this sinister army’s next victims.

Meanwhile, a faceless and growing enemy is determined to hunt down all three and stop them finding each other, and getting the answers they need.

The longer the hunt takes, the hungrier the hunters become.
Five Episodes have already aired.

You can view the first four episodes on their site. Let me know what you think. I am finding it fascinating so far.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.