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Biomimicry Using Polymers to Mimic Pinecones or Flowers

Grades: 9-12
Author: Josh Oldham
Source: Pei-Zhen Jian - This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EEC- 1542358.


Inspired by natural hygromorphs, students recreate or simulate how pinecones open and close based on their moisture content. Students use rubber pieces that are glued together and made of two different densities. These biomimetic bilayer structures replicate simple models of natural occurrences such as pine cones opening when dry and closing when moist. Because we are using rubber polymers our biomimetic bilayers will open and close using acetone, a solvent that will absorb into rubber much the way water would be absorbed in a pine cone.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • Skill: Design of experiments to test hypotheses about factors affecting germination.
  • "Carbon atoms can form four covalent bonds allowing a diversity of stable compounds to exist."
  • "Life is based on carbon compounds including carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids."
  • "Metabolism is the web of all the enzyme-catalyzed reactions in a cell or organism."
  • "Anabolism is the synthesis of complex molecules from simpler molecules including the formation of macromolecules from monomers by condensation reactions."
  • "Catabolism is the breakdown of complex molecules into simpler molecules including the hydrolysis of macromolecules into monomers."

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • Students should be able to conduct a controlled experiment using biomimetic bilayers made of rubber. Students will be able to create the bilayers by gluing rubber layers of different densities together and testing the created bilayers ability to open and close when placed in a solvent bath.


  • Lab Notebooks
  • Various rubber samples (12x12 sample sheets of rubber) ordered from McMaster Carr’s website
  • Glue to bind the rubber samples together
  • Scissors/cutting tools to slice rubber into test strips
  • Solvent (Acetone)
  • Beakers
  • Stopwatch
  • Safety equipment: goggles, aprons, gloves, and any other safety precautions deemed necessary



Day 1

  • Introduction/hook: Students read “Fabrics that work just like a pine cone” one minute read
  • Guest speaker: Pei-Zhen Jian presentation of her research at the University of Akron Polymer Science Department. PowerPoint attached and can be presented by classroom teacher as well.
  • Students begin lab write-up (Title, intro, hypothesis, materials, methods) (results, error analysis, discussion, etc. will be completed after their tests are conducted)


Day 2

  • Students conduct experiments using bilayers to test their hypothesis


Day 3

  • Completed lab write up and discussion




Scientific method review, Lab write-up procedures

Best Teaching Practices

  • Hands on/Minds on Learning
  • Real Life Situations and Problem Solving
  • Inquiry Approaches

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

  • HS-ETS1-2 Engineering Design: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • Performance Expectation: Grade: High School (9-12)

Ohio Standards:


During the years of grades 9 through 12, all students must use the following scientific processes with appropriate laboratory safety techniques to construct their knowledge and understanding in all science content areas:

  • Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations;
  • Design and conduct scientific investigations;
  • Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications;
  • Formulate and revise explanations and models using logic and evidence (critical thinking);
  • Recognize and analyze explanations and models; and
  • Communicate and support a scientific argument.

Content Knowledge



  • Ensure no students have latex allergies. If so make sure they use alternative gloves and are not in contact with latex
  • Follow proper lab safety procedures at all times
  • Use extra precautions when working with solvents. All solvents should be kept and used under the fuming hood


Biotechnology fields such as bioengineering; Industrial applications


Students will be assessed by their completed lab write-up (Rubric attached)

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions:

  • Students will work independently however may have to share resources (i.e. lab equipment and supplies)

Pacing/Suggested Time:

  • Two class periods (50 minutes)

Printable PDF Worksheets

Safety Disclaimer