In this video and related project, students are introduced to how engineers are learning from the natural world to solve problems. They then build a model of a bio-inspired grasping tool.


  • Students observe how engineers learn from the natural world to develop new technologies and improve our lives.
  • Students practice creating a model based on observing an animal.

Anchoring this lesson is a six-minute video clip from PBS’s NOVA miniseries “Making Stuff”.  In the episode, “Making Stuff: Wilder,” technology reporter David Pogue explores biologically inspired technologies. This clip features David meeting  engineer Heinrich Frontzek from the German company Festo to find out about the Bionic Handling Assistant—a machine modeled after an elephant’s trunk. A traditional robotic arm is rigid and unsafe to work closely with humans, but this new design is more flexible and less dangerous. The company has also developed a new kind of adaptive gripper, inspired by fish fins, that is flexible and able to securely grasp even fragile objects like eggs.

In the accompanying Making Stuff Wilder Project, students take inspiration from the structure and function of an eagle’s foot and create models to learn how the various parts of a foot can come together to form a working tool. This would make a good activity to practice strategies for model-making prior to a design challenge in which students would need to build models of their ideas.

Standards Addressed

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • HS-ETS1.A.3
  • HS-ETS1.A.2
  • HS-ETS1.C.3
  • MS-ETS1.A.1

International Society for Technology Education

  • 4.a — know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • 6.c — communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
  • 6.b — create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

Visit the PBS LearningMedia website to view this excerpt from NOVA: “Making Stuff Wilder” and to download the accompanying classroom project resources, which include a background essay, discussion questions for grades 6-12, and the  classroom project guide.