School for Nature
    
Itay Van-Rein

School for Nature
 
Initiating the school year: a new venture at the Ein-Shemer Ecological Greenhouse connects a teenage girl with an industrial factory - creating the future of pipelines (inspired by shark skin).   
 
August 26th 2015

This past spring Lipaz Harudi, an 11th grade student from the Mevoot Eron School, stood at the Mezerplas exhibition stand. Lipaz represented the Mezerplas factory, which specializes in agricultural pipelines, at the AgriTech Conference for agricultural innovation. Lipaz showcased a prototype of inner lining for irrigation pipelines, designed to mimic shark skin - which reduces biofouling in tubes. “Lipaz spoke with numerous visitors and attracted significant interest in the project”, says Itamar Avishay a marine biologist from the Ecological Greenhouse, who instructed Lipaz on the project.     


The concept, the development and the research took place at the Ecological Greenhouse at Ein-Shemer, within the framework of the “Bio-Mimicry – Solutions Inspired by Nature” program. The bio-mimicry program is developed and implemented by the Greenhouse, together with the Mevoot Eron School, and combines: science, environmental studies, technology, agriculture (and in the upcoming year sociology and culture too).

The research team: Lipaz (second from left). The Mezerplas stand at the AgriTech Conference. 













































An enlarged model of the shark-tube pattern. Illustration: Daniel Steible.









































The Ecological Greenhouse at Ein-Shemer
 

Imitating Sharks

The 2008 Beijing Olympics created global awareness of shark skin characteristics – as world records were broken one after the other. Body suites inspired by shark skin reduced water friction by 30% allowing swimmers to move faster. The unique geometric structure of shark skin creates turbulence around the body. The unique flow reduces friction and prevents adherence of particles in the water.
How was the connection between shark skin and advanced agricultural pipelines achieved? “Bio-mimicry is a mode of thinking which assumes that nature has overcome numerous challenges, from which we can learn” Lipaz explains. “At the Mezerplas factory, we were presented with the problem of blockage caused by biofouling. We researched the topic on the web and found Sharklet – a U.S company trying to solve a similar problem that exists with the external walls of vessels. The company replicates deep water shark skin patterns in its products – which inhibits accumulation of bacteria. The idea we presented to Mezerplas, was to create the internal surface of the pipeline, using the shark skin pattern. 

Against All Odds
The educational rationale at the Ecological Greenhouse, places emphasis on experiential learning and hands-on practical work. Once the concept was in place, the development of the first prototype began. “We planed the first design based on tested academic methods” explains Daniel Steible, who is in charge of 3D-printing at the Greenhouse. “We first printed models meant to generally resemble the desired shapes, and then created a detailed model of boards for the real experiment, which require more precise printing.” The printing was conducted through Stratasys – which specializes in advanced 3D printing solutions.
When the models were ready for the experimentation stage, Lipaz had her doubts: “We didn’t achieve the desired level of accuracy, and we made several compromises. I didn’t think the model would work.”
But the results were surprisingly positive. Boards that were printed with the shark skin pattern reduced the accumulation of bacteria on the surface substantially. “We conducted Polysaccharides painting, which indicates if there’s an initial accumulation of bacteria. We then measured the percentage of coverage on the surface” explains Avishay. “We found a huge difference in Polysaccharides coverage: 80% on the smooth boards and 0.5% only on the printed boards” Lipaz concludes following the success of the first experiment.
The follow-up experiment is currently being conducted, in which Lipaz is exploring the potential of the shark skin boards in treating waste water used for agricultural irrigation. The results she hopes will reaffirm the initial findings, and will take her another step forward in her attempt to design the final product. Upon completion of the project, Lipaz will also be granted five matriculation credits in the upcoming school year.


Against All Odds

The educational rationale at the Ecological Greenhouse, places emphasis on experiential learning and hands-on practical work. Once the concept was in place, the development of the first prototype began. “We planed the first design based on tested academic methods” explains Daniel Steible, who is in charge of 3D-printing at the Greenhouse. “We first printed models meant to generally resemble the desired shapes, and then created a detailed model of boards for the real experiment, which require more precise printing.” The printing was conducted through Stratasys – which specializes in advanced 3D printing solutions.
When the models were ready for the experimentation stage, Lipaz had her doubts: “We didn’t achieve the desired level of accuracy, and we made several compromises. I didn’t think the model would work.”

But the results were surprisingly positive. Boards that were printed with the shark skin pattern reduced the accumulation of bacteria on the surface substantially. “We conducted Polysaccharides painting, which indicates if there’s an initial accumulation of bacteria. We then measured the percentage of coverage on the surface” explains Avishay. “We found a huge difference in Polysaccharides coverage: 80% on the smooth boards and 0.5% only on the printed boards” Lipaz concludes following the success of the first experiment.

The follow-up experiment is currently being conducted, in which Lipaz is exploring the potential of the shark skin boards in treating waste water used for agricultural irrigation. The results she hopes will reaffirm the initial findings, and will take her another step forward in her attempt to design the final product. Upon completion of the project, Lipaz will also be granted five matriculation credits in the upcoming school year.

What’s the Next Challenge?
The Ecological Greenhouse, the students and Mezerplas, maintain a strong partnership. Executives from factories in the region visit often for routine updates on developments at the Ecological Greenhouse. “When Lipaz presented her concept, the factory’s CEO said in front of everybody that the idea sounds totally bizarre and surreal. But he immediately added that for this very reason it is interesting, and can be developed in the extraordinary environment of the Ecological Greenhouse” says Avital Geva, who founded the Ecological Greenhouse in 1977. This sort of unique combination encapsulates Avital’s initial vision for the Ecological Greenhouse. Noam his son, who manages the activities today explains: “the core principle of the Greenhouse from its very founding, was to create an environment that allows for a different kind of learning. The idea is to create connections between industry professionals and youths, in order to solve real problems in the agricultural industries”.
On the “Biomimicry – Innovation Inspired by Nature” program Noam adds: “Over the past few years, we have been witnessing acceleration in such connections between the industry and the Ecological Greenhouse. The educational system is constantly searching for these connections with “real-world” trends, so that real industry applications and needs can be encountered in the classroom. Factory owners are also searching for these combinations between science, technology, agriculture and the environment – and are promoting deeper appreciation for these fields among future generations. In the future, our students will perhaps further their education and a careers in these directions.”
On our way out from the Ecological Greenhouse, Avital examines small-round water drops on the edges of wheatgrass sprouts. This observation will perhaps provide inspiration for new technological developments in the future…
*  *  *
During the past school year, a team of leading students took part in the Biomimicry – Innovation Inspired by Nature program. These included: 24 10th grade students from Mevoot Eron, along with 12 8th grade students from the Pardes Hana Agricultural School. In the upcoming schoolyear 18 additional students from the Shvilim Democratic School in Pardes Hana are expected to join. Students completing the first year course, are offered the opportunity to continue with advanced studies – during which they conduct a final project for five matriculation points.

The development of the program is made possible thanks to the following partners: The project development department of the Rural Agriculture Administration (Ministry of Education), the Menashe Regional Council, the Galam factory, Gan Shmuel Foods, Metzerplas, Granot factories, Siban, Ambar, Stratisys, the educational department of the national Kibbutz Movement, Granot Avocado, Geva Sol, and Maccabbee Karaso. The factories, entrepreneurs and the researchers, provide students and staff with numerous intellectual and multi-disciplinary challenges, which encourage students to go out and explore innovative ideas and solutions, inspired by nature.

Over the past year, students from MIT, who attended a month-long educational program at the Greenhouse, joined the efforts in the program. The students assisted participants with their research, all conducted in English. The visiting students will continue with this important educational cause during the upcoming year as well.
       
 
 
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