Freshman Seminar: The Nature of Engineering

A microscope photograph of a plant stem's cross-section.

Many plant stems have a circular cross-section with a structure made of a dense outer shell surrounding an inner layer of low density, foam-like cells. (Photo by Prof. Lorna Gibson.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2005



Cite This Course

Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

Are you interested in investigating how nature engineers itself? How engineers copy the shapes found in nature ("biomimetics")? This Freshman Seminar investigates why similar shapes occur in so many natural things and how physics changes the shape of nature. Why are things in nature shaped the way they are? How do birds fly? Why do bird nests look the way they do? How do woodpeckers peck? Why can't trees grow taller than they are? Why is grass skinny and hollow? What is the wood science behind musical instruments? Questions such as these are the subject of biomimetic research and they have been the focus of investigation in this course for the past three years.

Other Versions

Related Content

Lorna Gibson. 3.A26 Freshman Seminar: The Nature of Engineering. Fall 2005. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

For more information about using these materials and the Creative Commons license, see our Terms of Use.