An Experimental Investigation of Analogy Formation Using the Engineering-to-Biology Thesaurus Conference Paper uri icon


  • Identifying applicable biological systems for engineering design remains a persistent challenge for bioinspired design. Previous researchers have proposed an Engineering-to- Biology thesaurus that allows designers to identify biological keywords that are functionally similar to terms in the Functional Basis. This work presents an experimental examination of the effectiveness of the Engineering-to- Biology thesaurus. A group of 100 mechanical engineering students are presented with a simple design problem: to create a device to remove the husk and silk from ears of corn. The participants read passages drawn from a large biology corpus with keywords from the Engineering-to-Biology thesaurus and indicate which passages prompt some idea for solving the design problem. The analysis of student responses indicates that students' level of design training is not a significant factor in the number of analogies they found in the passages and that some non-random criteria is used to identify passages as useful for idea generation. Passages that rarely offer participants ideas can be reasonably well classified as either being too technical for a lay-reader to understand or lacking information on a biological system. Passages that typically offer ideas cannot be so easily classified. Finally, keywords from the Engineering-to-Biology thesaurus are examined to find that keywords very specific to biology and those that are very common words with multiple meanings are rarely contained in sentences that offer strong design inspiration. Copyright © 2013 by ASME.

author list (cited authors)

  • Glier, M. W., McAdams, D. A., & Linsey, J. S.

citation count

  • 6

publication date

  • August 2013