Claire Janisch

Biomimicry Specialist

�Nature has had 3.8-billion years of research and development, and we've only had 1 200,� says Claire Janisch, one of only a handful of biomimicry specialists in the world. Her job may seem obscure, but it's all about turning science fiction into science fact. Scientists in this field believe humans can learn to live sustainably by emulating strategies used in nature. Architects design more resilient buildings by investigating termite mounds, computer scientists use the human brain as a template for building super computers, and material engineers study abalone shells to create lightweight materials that are stronger than anything we have today. Janisch began her career as a chemical engineer, a field she says focuses on "making oil and petrol and toxic plastics, things that cause environmental disasters�. So for her first master's degree she specialised in environmental process engineering and studied cleaner production techniques. She went further with her second master's, studying biomimicry to learn how to design sustainable systems from start to finish. "You have to think in systems. If you don't, you'll always end up with little bits that you have to fix,� she says. And that's not how nature works. In the past few years she's been to the Amazon, Costa Rica and the United States to study how different ecosystems have adapted to suit their environment. In South Africa, Janisch teaches students, educators and corporates about biomimicry and has worked with organisations as diverse as the Johannesburg Zoo, the CSIR and the Ford Motor Company to help improve their efficiency and sustainability. Outside of biomimicry, Janisch focuses her efforts on cultivating genius. She helped found the Genius Lab, an organisation that works with children and adults to inspire creative thinking. "If the world was in a lot of trouble, we'd need genius and new ideas, not repeating the mistakes of the past,� she says. � Faranaaz Parker

Lunch spot: Tumble Downs Cafe and Restaurant, Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal