John Dabiri

Bio-mimicry is an exciting frontier in engineering. This new
zeitgeist looks to the ingenuity of evolution to solve the most pressing
design problems of today, like renewable energy and efficiency. John
Dabiri is doing just that. This mechanical and aerospace engineering
grad has mathematically modeled the movements of jellyfish through the
water and studied how they create a vortex to propel them. He’s
currently working on an underwater craft that uses just this method of
propulsion — and 30 percent less energy — funded by none other than
the US Navy.

This, however, isn’t the only energy-saving venture he’s put his talents
toward. Using mathematical models of the movement of schools of fish,
Dabiri has optimized wind farms across the world. Wind farms mirror
schools of fish in that each object pushes fluid toward the others,
creating resistance. Fish have evolved elegant solutions to this
problem, and Dabiri mapped them. “He was the first person to think of
[modeling wind farms on fish schools.] It’s a game-changer,” says one of
Dabiri’s engineering professors at Princeton, Alexander Smits. Dabiri
started Scalable Wind Solutions, a company with plans to start selling
his optimizing software. This software can make it possible to produce
ten times more energy from a given field by squeezing more turbines on
to the land with minimal interference with each other, and it will
hopefully be coming to market in two years.

Dabiri originally planned to work in the Toledo auto industry, like his
father before him. But his summer spent as a Princeton undergrad, at the
California Institute of Technology, filming jellyfish and writing
mathematical models to describe their movement changed all that. He fell
in love with engineering inspired by biology. “To tap the inexhaustible
supply of inspiration found in nature,” he states as his goal.