Second Place - Middle School,  National

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 9: Industry Innovation & Infrastructure

2023 Youth Design Challenge

This design concept was developed by participants in the Institute’s Youth Design Challenge. The descriptions below are from the team’s competition entry materials.

School: Kalispell Middle School
Location: Kalispell, MT
Coach: Ashley Skare, Annie Gustafon
Team members: Bridger Sunde, Kruz Robinson, Sachi Kameya, Szonja Czinner

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Innovation Details

The BioBuilders team from Montana understands that housing is a growing problem that affects not only their Flathead Valley community but communities all around the world. Current housing solutions are often unsustainable and require constant repairs that use up non-renewable materials. Their Diatom Brick House suggests a new way to build, inspired by diatoms, golden scaled snails, and jet ants. The unique structure of the diatom gives it an incredible strength-to-weight ratio, which could be used to cut down on the materials needed. The snail shell is an inspiration for the strength of the roof, particularly with future natural disasters in mind. The team draws inspiration from jet ants to further strengthen their design, as jet ants use fungi to fortify their nests by letting the fungi grow and using it to bind their nest walls, providing reinforcement.

The judges commented that team BioBuilders thoroughly and thoughtfully approached the future of housing and took care to ensure that the proposed infrastructure could last longer, and could be built sustainably.

What is the problem your team solved for this challenge? What is the problem addressed? How is the problem connected to the selected SDG?

Unsustainable housing is a growing problem that affects places worldwide and locally in the Flathead Valley. If we keep building in a way that requires constant repairs, or in places that disrupt the environment, it will cause irreversible damage to the planet. Addressing this problem falls under the United Nations Goal Nine of sustainable industry, innovation, and infrastructure. Focusing on the infrastructure aspect means that we will solve this problem by designing something that we can use to build to a higher standard.

How was your solution inspired by nature? What (at least two) organisms did you learn from? How effectively did you combine the biological strategies for the final design?

Nature tends to find clever ways to protect itself, the goal isn’t sustainability, it’s an efficient way of surviving. We were inspired by two different organisms that have evolved to protect and house themselves in ways that we can mimic, diatoms and jet ants. From both of these organisms, we learned that it isn’t necessarily the material that can make something strong, instead, the configuration is what gives strength to a structure. We took these two biological models and effectively combined them to make the Diatom Brick that can be used to build sustainably.

What does your design solution do? How does it solve or mitigate the problem you selected? How did what you learn inform your design?

Our design solution allows a strong structure with the weight kept at a low level. This way of building is sustainable because it lowers the need for the replacement of damaged materials and the need for harvesting non-renewable materials. Learning about strength coming from structures helped us with building and testing our physical model since we knew that our test results would be accurate because it wasn’t the material itself we were testing. With all of these aspects put together, we created the Diatom Brick House.