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Interview with Marjan Eggermont (Designer)
Julie Laurin, Dr. Marjan Eggermont
Julie Laurin 00:17
Dr. Marjan Eggermont, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 00:20
Julie Laurin 00:21
So you’re a very interesting guest, you have a specialty essentially, that I really took interest in. You’re specialized essentially in biomimicry bio design, is that correct?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 00:34
Yeah, I tend to use bio inspired design as my sort of catch all term, but biomimicry is part of that bio design would be more designing with organisms and creatures and I do not do that. But I am very much inspired by nature and what we can learn from how nature achieves functions, how it, how it deals with challenges and how it solves it.
Julie Laurin 01:02
Fascinating and you’re also a professor at the University of Calgary in the School of Engineering, right?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 01:07
Yes, I am. Yeah. I’m a teaching professor. So I mainly do lots of teaching not so much research.
Julie Laurin 01:15
Okay, I did not know that. What actually, I want to touch on really briefly before we start talking about bioinspired design and all that is that you also have a BA in military history.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 01:27
Yes, that sort of happens. Not by accident, but because I had some good professors and I started taking every course that they were teaching. And so that’s how I ended up with that. So
Julie Laurin 01:41
the main question I had was, how does somebody end up in military history unless they have a real, you know, passion for that, but sometimes it is the professor’s.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 01:51
Yeah. So I had? Well, if you know, I’ll back up a little bit, I had just moved from the Netherlands to Canada, and started doing General Studies, which was still kind of a track at that point. And my original intent was to do biology and then go to med school. That didn’t really pan out. So during my biology sort of start, I started taking, you know, option courses. And I’ve always been interested in history, and I was really taking history courses that kind of put me back into Europe and into Holland, because I was missing it lots. And then I kind of met some professors who were teaching really interesting topics, like inter word diplomacy, and espionage and the state and all sorts of funky titles like that. And I thought, well, this is interesting, and allows me to learn a lot about where I’m from and, and I ended up doing what we’re one more or two military history.
Julie Laurin 02:56
so fascinating. I’ve actually got a guest that I’m recording right after you who specialized in victory gardens during World War One. Yeah, so it’s very much related to this. Then Then, after you did the BA in military history, you completed a BFA in an MFA.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 03:12
Yeah, and that’s also the fault of the military history. So my final year, I had to do a thesis project or sort of independent study project on something that was related to the 1930s. And some of the activities that Hitler was pursuing. And one of those was mounting an exhibition that was called degenerate art. And that was, I think, in around 1937 or so. And he pulled together all the arts that he saw it was degenerate, and that he had bands throughout Germany, folded together in an exhibition, and I think, in Munich, and I was studying that exhibition and what had happened to the work of these artists, and I became really interested in a lot of the sort of very abstract German woodcuts that were on display. And I literally went to the art department and asked, How do you make woodcuts? And that, yeah, led to six years, or seven years in the art department.
Julie Laurin 04:21
That’s amazing. So you’re the type of person that genuinely is interested in a lot of things and just kind of follows your curiosity.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 04:30
I do. Yeah. And, and, in a way, I was kind of fortunate to be able to do that. I mean, I do have parents who are very encouraging in terms of academics. But yeah, I just, I get kind of wrapped up in things and then really want to explore them as much as I can and see where it takes me and then yeah, as you know, with with the stuff now with bio inspired design, it’s another one of those things that I’m doing, I sort of do Dive into. Yeah, I
Julie Laurin 05:02
want to I want to stay in your BFA ma MFA years just for a moment here, because I’m curious to know, once you finish your MFA at that point, did you did you think that maybe you would become an artist?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 05:14
Yeah. And I, I still am. But yeah, you know, in any of the spare time that I can find. Yeah, I did I want to teach in an art departments and make art that was the plan, right. But yeah, I went a little different.
Julie Laurin 05:32
Yeah. Because then next on your your list of accomplishments? Is your PhD in computational Media Design, which I have no idea what that is? Can you explain that for me?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 05:43
Sure. So I had a long break. So I finished my Master’s in 98. And then I started this in 2009, or something. So by the time I started the PhD, I’d been teaching in the engineering faculty for quite a long time. And I mainly am teaching in areas of design and, you know, some technology society, material. And, yeah, I wanted to add an angle to my art degree. And this program kind of reared its head. And it was a combination between design art and computer science. And I thought, okay, that allows me another sort of entry into the world of engineering. And yeah, it was also allowed me to combine, you know, some past work that I’ve done in the art department, so. So it seemed like a good idea.
Julie Laurin 06:43
Okay, and what was your I guess? It’s called a thesis when you’re doing your PhD, right? or dissertation? What was your lawn?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 06:52
I ended up doing something called information visualization, that bio inspired design. So I was looking at maybe patterns or systems or processes in nature that could perhaps inspire data visualization.
Julie Laurin 07:11
Okay, so when you’re doing that, so you’re doing your dissertation? Is that also inspiring your art? Or is your art taking a bit of a break during that time?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 07:21
Yeah, my arts Initially, I thought that maybe it could be embedded that didn’t end up happening, although anything that you’re doing in an in an art career, bleeds into everything else, so but I wouldn’t say that I ended up making a series of artwork based on that degree. So it did. Yeah, it’s a little bit on hold. You’re right.
Julie Laurin 07:44
Okay. And it’s just interesting to me, because I was, I was speaking with a former son, a musician, slash singer. And we were talking about how because she’s doing visual arts now. And I find that once you’re born an artist, you remain an artist, no matter what, like you said, no matter what it is that you’re doing, it just bleeds into your other work.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 08:04
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it’s just, yeah, I think in our two, you learn to see lots of connections. And you sometimes see them where maybe they’re not, but you explore them, and something ends up coming out of it anyway. So yeah, you sort of look at things sideways, maybe?
Julie Laurin 08:26
Yeah, I guess are underneath or on the top? Yeah, I find it’s it’s a really curiosity led experience.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 08:34
Julie Laurin 08:35
Right. Why is bioinspired design? Why is that part of the engineering of the School of Engineering? Why isn’t that part of science or part of art? Or is that just something that is applicable to all those fields, but happens to be taught in engineering?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 08:52
Well, it’s taught at our school because I decided to teach it and I’m just stubborn. So I’ve been talking to students about this since 2014, when I first started to introduce them to it. And they responded really well, and, and sort of their enthusiasm led me to just keep introducing that. It was a little bit hit and miss, right, I sometimes would teach in very large design courses with 801st years. And if I had colleagues that were amenable to doing a project on bioinspired design, I would, I would create that and the students would submit all these amazing drawings and projects. And so it’s, it’s kind of You see, I’ve, I’ve now managed to get a whole course on the books. So it’s now a technical elective in third and third or fourth years when they can take it. So that’s also recent developments since about three years I’ve been teaching that course. But before that, it was just a subcomponent of design courses. But it is applicable to many, many disciplines, right? There’s people in business that are looking at this field, obviously in science and in biology, which is where all the material really comes from, but also in architecture, industrial design, lots of places.
Julie Laurin 10:18
Okay, is biomimicry, the same thing as bio inspired design? Or is it related?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 10:24
It depends on who you talk to. So, as with all fields, there’s sometimes I don’t know what you would call it, schisms, perhaps. Where it depends on how people are using definitions. So biomimicry, and and I do agree with that biomimicry largely looks at bio inspiration that also keeps in mind sustainability, right and, and trying not to design things that are just as bad as designs that have been designed without biomimicry. Right that, for instance, pollute or, or whatever. So. So, in biomimicry, they kind of make a distinction that okay, what we do is an attempt to be sustainable and possibly regenerative. And in engineering, sometimes people prefer to use the term biomimetics, where sometimes where something is inspired from biology, but the outcome is not necessarily sustainable. Right? It might be more efficient, but not necessarily sustainable. So there’s a bit of Yeah, sometimes arguments about what is what?
Julie Laurin 11:42
That’s interesting. I didn’t know about the sustainability angle. Do you have a preference? Like do you? Do you find that you’re teaching you’re leaning one way or the other? Or do you find that you’re really focused on one?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 11:55
Well, I, my attempt is that students come up with designs that are more sustainable. Because I think that’s where, obviously the world needs to go. I mean, that’s why we’re all at home, is because we haven’t been doing that. So I think it’s a it’s a huge push that needs to come that we look at how nature recycles. upcycles creates materials that are benign, in terms of chemistry and all that stuff. So I think there’s a lot to learn.
Julie Laurin 12:28
Have there been any I mean, plastics is one of the hot topics. Have there been any improvements in maybe making plastics more biodegradable? Thanks to bioinspired design. Yeah,
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 12:41
yeah, that is a big area of research. There is and this I wouldn’t call this strictly biomimicry, but there is a group that’s taking discarded shrimp shells and making up a bio plastic out of the the sort of discarded kind of outer shells of shrimp. So it’s sort of a caiden type material, and they’re able to mold it and and it’s it degrades over time. So it’s, it’s a short use kind of plastic. Yeah, and there’s lots of other companies that are doing things now with with milk protein and things like that, and turning them into plastic. So, so that’s definitely happening.
Julie Laurin 13:28
Yeah. Amazing. And so one of the questions that came out of flesh love, who’s the singer I was telling you about earlier. She appeared on the podcast a couple of weeks ago. She is particularly interested in biomimicry and animals. So are animals studied in biomimicry?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 13:48
Yeah, everything is studied. So it’s a it’s a field that is has space for a huge amount of research. And, you know, as long as we’re able to keep the worlds as bio diverse as possible, there’s tons and tons to learn. So, yeah, there’s I mean, there’s people that are studying and colonies, right, and how to ants find their way to food sources and how the day convey that information, then people are designing algorithms based on that. Right. So and colony optimization algorithms, right. There’s algorithms come coming out of honeybee societies. There’s no sunscreen that’s being kind of researched in terms of Hippo sweats, that is antibacterial and has a sunscreen type component in it. So there’s all sorts of kind of interesting and sometimes funny things that animals are able to do that we have no idea about. So yeah,
Julie Laurin 14:54
you provided me when I asked you for a photograph of yourself. You provided me a photograph of you Holding a snake, a rather large snake? Why were you holding a snake?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 15:06
So, one of the things when we were still able to meet in person in the classroom, you know, we’re we are so kind of isolated from the natural world. And Calgary in the wintertime can be especially barren and very cold. So I had asked a local group called reptile parties, and they usually do just that they go to kids birthday parties, and they talk about reptiles and show reptiles to the kids. And I thought, well, we’re still big kids. So let’s invite them to the classroom. And so they they came with a whole bunch of snakes and geckos and I think they even had a chameleon and other things like that. And they were fairly large. So that was exciting. classrooms are not that big. And some of my students had never seen had never touched an animal in their life, which was a bit of a shocker to me, not even a pet. And so they luckily it brought a giant tortoise and the animal didn’t move very fast. So convinced the students that they could such that without too many repercussions.
Julie Laurin 16:23
That’s amazing. There’s a similar Group here in Ottawa called them I think it’s a raise, raise little reptiles are raised. Man, I can’t believe I’m forgetting the name. But I’ll put a link later. But yeah, so they they also do the same thing. They go around and they educate kids and grownups. You know, about reptiles. What is there something in particular that snakes can teach us in terms of design?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 16:47
Yeah, they have all sorts of sensory organs, right, where they can sense you know, different temperatures. They have incredible jaws that can unhinge, right. And we’ve all seen snakes swallow huge things. There’s, you know, the way they move through an environment, right, there’s all sorts of different ways that they’re moving through when that’s his huge inspiration for robots and for planetary rovers. Right, so the rovers that are being sent to Mars, for instance, right, there’s some ideas out there. You know, instead of having them on wheels, maybe they should, you know, move in that sort of zigzag fashion that a snake will do. So that, you know, so that they don’t get stuck, or they can get out of, you know, sand dunes or things like that. So snakes are hugely inspirational. Yeah. Yeah.
Julie Laurin 17:43
Yeah. I would imagine also the molting.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 17:45
Mm hmm. Yep. Yeah. And, and just, you know, how they sort of regenerate that skin and the scaling of the skin, and it has, you know, self cleaning properties. And there’s all sorts of interesting applications there.
Julie Laurin 18:01
It’s pretty amazing. He said that some of your students had never even touched an animal before. It kind of makes me sad. That’s a big problem, especially in urban areas, rural areas, not so much. I think kids get the chance to go play outside, you know, dig holes in the ground and climb trees, but in in more urban centers. It’s a it’s a massive problem, isn’t it?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 18:24
I think so. Yeah. And, yeah, our school, for instance, and you know, this is just related to pets. But I think other schools have been doing this as well, during exam time, right, they now are starting to bring, you know, all sorts of animals onto the campus. And students can come by and spend time with an animal just to get their get their stress under control during exam time. So even even things like that, right are hugely important. And I think, you know, I think dogs in Calgary are sold out at the moment, because so many people invested in a pet while they were at home, right, just to be able to go for walks and have that company, so
Julie Laurin 19:09
right and never even thought about that. Mm hmm. Are there when you’re teaching in your classes? When you were in person? Would you take the students out on a little field trip? Maybe go for a hike?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 19:22
Yeah, we did that as well. We’ve been on walks with, you know, I would invite fellow biologist from the school because I’m very much a generalist, right. So my, I sort of have this big picture idea of bioinspired design, but it’s, yeah, it’s creates for me good conditions to invite other people who have their speciality and so they would provide the sort of biological information and I tried to talk about functionality and design ideas. And we’ve also done tours at our local zoo. So, you know, go and see the penguins and all sorts of other animals, right? hippopotamus and yeah, whatever they had at the time, right? And spend some time just just looking and seeing how they’re behaving and how they’re interacting and just really spend time observing. And that’s, that can be very well give this sort of real angle to the field that they’re studying.
Julie Laurin 20:27
Right. I think it gives them a huge advantage. Mm hmm. Yeah. And you expressed recently that you’ve had an interest in micro organisms.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 20:36
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, of course, everybody loves the tardigrade. I know you do. I do. I’m slightly obsessed myself. Yeah. And, and I was, I was interviewed by the local news station when when that spacecraft crashed on the moon, and there was news that there was tardigrades on board. And, you know, I was asked, Would they survive, you know, the crash? And anyways, I had this sort of vision of a small, a small Society of tardigrades inhabiting the moon with tiny little flag. But that’s Yeah, anyways, but, ya know, I’m super interested, right. And there’s a whole group of organisms that are called extreme of files, that, that are living in very extreme environments, all around the planet. You know, fish that that live in, in very, very cold waters that have an anti freeze protein in their blood and, you know, bacteria that are able to withstand super high temperatures are very toxic environments for us and things like that. So, again, lots to learn from all those organisms.
Julie Laurin 21:52
Yeah, it’s been a mind blowing experience for me because I got my first microscope, my first grown up microscope, just last year, and it was from reading a book by Rob Dunn, who’s a scientist in the United States. And the book is called never home loan. And I was reading it and just in the first chapter, I bought a microscope on Amazon. It was, and the first time I saw a drop of pond water, Maryann, I was blown away. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. Yeah,
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 22:22
no, it’s well, yeah. And he also has a really good site called creature cast, which has these great little videos. I don’t know if you’ve seen them. He asked his students to bake these creature videos that are really yeah, they’re really great. Sometimes they’re just sort of paper puppets and so if you have a chance, have a look at that. But yeah, this stuff is really good.
Julie Laurin 22:45
Yeah, he’s really good. And so did you end up buying yourself a microscope?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 22:49
I haven’t done that yet. But now that I’ve shown your stuff in zygote I am definitely on my way because I want to find my own tardigrade. My life will be complete.
Julie Laurin 23:02
Maybe I can send you some from Ottawa.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 23:07
I went to the zoo in Amsterdam has a new a new extension called I think it’s called my microvia aways they have they have a 300 pound enormous tardigrade in their entryway. So I was just sold to that place right away. And
Julie Laurin 23:27
yeah, yeah, just wait until you get your own microscope. And I you know, I want to tell everybody listening at home. microscopes are much much cheaper these days. You can get a decent Oh max or amscope microscope on Amazon or get a used one locally. But essentially the, you know, you mentioned extremophiles, that is actually what blows me away is is and it’s not just tardigrades, like you said, it’s like little other little creatures like rotifers. rotifers can survive like a really long time and be brought back to life with just a little bit of water.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 24:01
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The same was with tardigrades. Right they’ve been, they found some that that were dormant for 30 years, right and add water and they, they get back up and walk away. It’s unbelievable.
Julie Laurin 24:14
Do you know of any bioinspired design that has come from microorganisms?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 24:21
Well, that that particular ability, so right to go into that dormant state? As far as I understand, what happens is the organs of that, say the tardigrade becomes almost kind of suspended in a sugar coating, right? I think it’s called trail O’s. And, and I sort of imagine it as if you were, you know, if you’re printing something with a 3d printer, you know, when you sometimes have those additional little spikes to hold up the objects you’re printing, that’s how I kind of imagine all these little tardigrade organs being held up by these sugars. So there is a company, I think they’re called bio matrika. And, and they are doing that with vaccines. And with, you know, DNA RNA samples for research. And so normally those would be kind of kept in the in freezers, right to kind of keep them fresh. But you can have damage, of course, from ice forming on these samples. And so what they’re doing is they’re, if you take, for instance, a vaccine that’s in the liquid day, they put it into that sort of dried states using a similar process. So that you can transfer that material at room temperature, and then add water, the way we do with the tardigrade. And make that sample viable again. So that’s really interesting, because then you don’t need refrigeration or freezing capacity, especially say in areas where there’s a hard time getting electricity. Right. So. So that’s, yeah, that is
Julie Laurin 26:04
really, really cool. I did not know that. And I wonder too, like for, you know, Ciliates, for example. Mm hmm. You know, the little creatures that have little hairlike structures called Celia all around them, and that’s how they swim. I wonder if there’s a way to like improve? I don’t know, underwater crafts or something?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 26:24
Yeah, yeah, that that would definitely be an option. I mean, there’s Yeah, I’m not completely sure if that’s being looked at? I’m sure it is, you know, I mean, if we’re thinking about it, others are, of course, do. I know that there’s a couple of robots for underwater surveying that are being designed based on on marine life movement, so that they don’t disturb right, say, a coral reef, too much so that the movement is gentle, right, and it’s not giant motor kind of coming through. So it’s definitely advantageous for either moving quietly or slowly or, you know, without much turbulence or right, things like that. So, right, all sorts of possibilities. Yeah.
Julie Laurin 27:13
So do you have to reverse engineer? So for example, I don’t know snake skin or something. We want to learn how snakes, snakes, molds and stuff like that, do you have to know exactly how it’s done in order to create a design based on that?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 27:29
Well, for something like that, yeah, I would try know, as much as possible. But in other cases, and this is where I sometimes butt heads with biologist. So biologists obviously are trying to know everything there is to know about a specific organism, that’s their speciality. And then I show up and say, Oh, well, you know, there’s this, we just looked at, you know, this particular shape, and it looks like a good, a good shape for being turbulence free, or something like that, or right having very, you know, and they say, oh, but you don’t know everything there is to know about the animals. So that’s not always necessary in terms of coming up with better design. But, you know, the more knowledge, the better, obviously, but I would say, you know, if people are interested in, in this stuff, right, try and put together a very interdisciplinary group, right, so that you tap people that have the expertise and collaborate, right.
Julie Laurin 28:35
So a company could form a department, they could like a company that’s building, I don’t know, medical supplies, or new food products or whatever, they could potentially create a whole new department within their company, based on bioinspired design?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 28:51
I think so. Yeah. I think they need to start hiring biologists. You know, and have and have, you know, in house biologists work with their designers and, you know, maybe start with a sort of biologist who’s a bit more of a generalist, but who can kind of, you know, think laterally and say, yeah, that reminds me of, and then, you know, see where the conversation goes. I think, I think that definitely has possibilities. And there are companies that are doing that.
Julie Laurin 29:21
Oh, there are I didn’t know.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 29:22
Yeah, so that’s, that’s happening slowly. I’m at a conference next week, where we have a senior designer who’s part of Oxo right the company that makes these kitchen products that are super easy to use, and kind of, I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but anyways, they they have their senior designer who’s super interested in bioinspired design and, and is looking at all sorts of things, you know, to mimic by our compliance joints and all sorts of interesting hinges and so he’s looking at biology.
Julie Laurin 30:00
It’s so cool, because there’s a lot of biologists I mean, there’s not enough teaching jobs, first of all, for all the biologists in the world, and there’s not a lot of research positions, either. So I think this is a field that they could potentially specialize in, in, especially in private industry.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 30:14
Absolutely. Yeah, I think. Well, I think and I hope that that’s going to become, right, a huge Kind of, yeah, job opportunity for biologists. Right. They can they, yeah, we have to work towards a more sustainable future, much more sustainable. And I think the way to do is, is to see, you know, how do organisms adapt and survive and, and flourish and thrive? And how do we start to act more in sync with the world around us? Right?
Julie Laurin 30:49
Is there um, because I know a lot of biologists especially on Twitter, I know a lot of them who are specialized in everything from birds to diatoms, is there an additional course? Or is there a way that they could present themselves to private industry in a better position to apply or create these jobs?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 31:08
Yeah, so I mean, they could you know, there’s a bunch of groups out there that are that do training. Right. So there’s the biomimicry Institute in the states that runs yearly design challenges for high school kids and for university students, and I have my students participate in that. But there’s a program at ASU in Arizona, that’s will give you a master’s in bio inspired design, or biomimicry. There’s a couple programs in Germany. So there’s an there’s a group out of I think it’s gwelf biomimicry frontiers. So that’s out east in Canada. They’re starting up with an online course really soon. So I’d keep an eye out for that. Jamie Miller is the guy who’s running that he’s an engineer, and really well versed in this area. So there’s, there’s opportunities in Canada, also in the States, Germany, those are kind of three big places where this is going on.
Julie Laurin 32:19
Okay, that’s good to know. I have one last question in regards to buy inspired design, and then we’re gonna move on. I was curious to know if there’s been a reversal sometimes where animals have mimicked what you humans do?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 32:36
Well, I saw I saw a parrot singing Beyonce yesterday, and he was really good. And there was a, this was in the same place somewhere in the UK, there’s a sanctuary for parents that have been quote unquote, led go by their owners anyways, they had to separate five gray parrots because they were teaching each other to swear at the visitors. Anyways, I love that stuff. Hilarious.
Julie Laurin 33:05
But I guess I guess we’re the most intelligent in terms of being able to mimic other creatures, but I would think that maybe with for example, apes, that could mimic things like tools. Like I think there was an Iranian thing that was spearfishing one time. Yeah, I don’t know if it’s because it’s all human do it.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 33:25
That I think it’s possible, right? There’s Yeah, I mean, there’s all sorts of research coming out right now about crows and, and that they have an actual sense of self and they’re able to think about themselves and what they know, which I find just fascinating. And, and they have been shown to do all sorts of kind of tool manipulation and whether they, whether they observe us, I think sometimes probably in sort of research settings where they’re trying to have gross, right solve complex problems, right in terms of how do I open this to get this particular treat? And there’s all sorts of course great videos of gross with with lead from a yogurt container, tobogganing down the roof. Right? And I don’t know, maybe they’ve seen us do that. So curious. We just we don’t know enough right? there for we’re fairly cocky, but we don’t know an awful lot.
Julie Laurin 34:29
That’s true. That’s true. You are part of a group that edits and manages a biodesign bioinspired design journal, I guess called up now I’m going to pronounce it probably more in the French Way. In French we say z gut. But it is it is I got quarterly Is that correct?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 34:49
Yeah. I say cycled quarterly doesn’t matter. I mean, however you want to say it. Set q There you go.
Julie Laurin 34:56
Then q or z q if you’re American, I get q Yeah. Yeah, what inspired this? And, you know, what do you hope to achieve with this quarterly design?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 35:07
So we started in? Well, we started talking in 2011. And I had been teaching the students quite a bit of this material in this first year design course. And I was always looking for a resource for them. And, and there, there is a sort of scientific journal called biomimetics and bioinspiration. And that’s, of course, a good journal, but tends to be a little bit heavy on the math and on the science, and not as easily digestible for, say, first year students. So that existed, and then fairly hyped up sort of new stories about, you know, the latest and greatest in biomimicry that were, that were good information, but not enough information. Right? They sort of, yeah, very short pieces that would kind of disappear. So I got together with some colleagues, and they said, you know, well, if, if it’s not, if it doesn’t exist, why don’t we start something and see where it goes? So yeah, we we published our first issue in 2012. And, yeah, I don’t think we thought that we would still be going now. But But you know, as long as it’s, as long as we can pull material together, I think the three of us are continuing, and we have some very dedicated kind of authors that contribute to it. We have somebody from ASU who writes this science of seeing column, that’s really great. Yeah, so so everything is, is on a voluntary basis. And, you know, as long as we have energy to do it, we’ll do it.
Julie Laurin 36:52
Yeah, it’s funny, because for people who don’t know, I was featured in issue 28, as I got quarterly, and I was curious, because one thing that I don’t recall asking you is how you found me and my work? And how do you find people to feature in this in this journal?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 37:10
I do a lot of surfing on the web. I still hope to do a surfing course, one day soon when we’re allowed out again. But yeah, how did I find you? I’ve looked at I’ve come across your sites multiple times. And I just this time, I don’t know why. I think because I had tardigrades on my mind so much that I was, I was looking for tardigrade material that I came across your site again. And I always, you know, I always throw my proposals for portfolios in the group. Right? We try to be a democratic board. And yeah, they said, great example of citizen science and something really accessible. And I think I think something a lot of the educators that read the magazine will pick up on so I was super excited that you said yes. So that’s great.
Julie Laurin 38:06
No, but I mean, I was I was also super excited to know that there was a a journal that was excited to feature someone who didn’t have a Union University education. You know, I on paper, I still only have a high school education.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 38:20
Yeah, to me that I mean, I don’t know, I don’t really care about that at all, actually. I know, that I have have done a lot of things, but I’m so reactionary, that, you know, I, I could have easily gone a different route. And, and I just, I’m interested in people that are passionate about something, and that doesn’t necessarily need a degree. Right. Right. I mean, I, for this bioinspired stuff, I’m, in a way completely self taught, right? I did it lots of other degrees, but nothing really in this area. Right. So. So I think, you know, for most people, right, get excited about something and just stick with it. Right? And you never know where it ends up.
Julie Laurin 39:04
Absolutely. And speaking of passion, you you’re an artist, I mean, you know, all this stuff, you know that, you know, if you stick to something it didn’t materializes. Tell me a little bit about your art. What kind of artwork do you do?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 39:19
Yeah, so the artwork, if I if I think back, I think the reason I started making art and really started investigating that whole side of myself had a lot to do with, with being an immigrant and moving from another country. And, and really trying to sort of investigate, you know, the person the place, right, the, the landscape that was very much related to, you know, where was I from, and where was I now and how is actually feeling about all that.
Julie Laurin 39:54
So art was pretty much a vessel of expression for that. So let me Why don’t we tell that story briefly then you’re originally from the Netherlands, you came to Canada? And then what happened?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 40:07
I started school here right away. Yeah, I think, in Holland, so I probably would have either done Dutch literature or med school. So two very different things. And then when I got here, that kind of all went out the window, because, you know, you have to get an undergrad here first before you go to med school. And yeah, you also kind of have to get used to right, what is displays? Right? And how are people in their day to day? And do I gel with that? Do I not gel with that? Right? Making all new friends trying to see where you fit, right? And then maybe there’s a lot more reflection that happens as to who you are yourself when you’re going through that process.
Julie Laurin 40:57
Why did you come to Canada in the first place?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 41:01
My dad was a is a researcher, recently retired. But yeah, he was offered a research position in Calgary. And so we moved. Yeah, because I was young enough to be moved with my parents.
Julie Laurin 41:16
What did he What did he research?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 41:19
He’s a biophysicist. So he, he’s kind of, yeah, I think it gels with him that I’m doing this bioinspired design in a way. righties, he’s always very much looks at all that material. And I think subconsciously, I’ve always been aware of that stuff in the house. Right. I’ve always seen books in the house that, that deal with evolution, the nature and yeah, he’s, you know, he’s a big supporter of all sorts of wildlife organizations. So I think I do come by naturally in a way. But I have a very circuitous route.
Julie Laurin 41:56
Interesting. Do you find? So let’s say you were to have an art show in 2022? I’m gonna say right now, because it’s
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 42:04
just not possible.
Julie Laurin 42:06
If you were to have an art show, you go to a new gallery, let’s say New York City, they have a beautiful solar art show. Do you find that people will take you more seriously as an artist? If you tell them that you’re also, you know, an engineering professor? Or do you find it’s the opposite? Do you find that, you know, they don’t support your artwork? Because they figure Oh, well, you have a date day job?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 42:31
Yeah, a little bit more of the latter, and not so much that I have a day job, but that I’m not suffering enough for the art maybe. And maybe that’s the same. So, you know, that, that I’ve somehow diluted being an artist by doing all these other things? I think people like it when you do one thing. Yeah. And if you start doing more than, then yeah, then then it becomes maybe a little bit suspect.
Julie Laurin 43:00
Yeah, that’s something I wanted to bring up with you because I was in the same shoes. You know, when I had a day job. I think what, what’s interesting is that on social, I never talked about my day job. I always talked about my art. When people learned that I had a day job. They were surprised. They were like, Oh, we didn’t know that. And I found their attitudes very different afterwards.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 43:23
Yeah. Yeah. No, I have found the same. So I’m, yeah, I think part of the pause right now is just reassessing. Okay, if I’m going to be an artist, you know, how am I going to continue? Because I’ve, yeah, I’ve, so far, I’ve made work for 20 years, that has been all fairly sort of along the same lines. And, and I think, yeah, I met up at a stage where I have to think, okay, I, I enjoy making art, and that’s sort of my happiest place. And at the moment designing, so I go, just taking a huge sort of space and that sort of creative, wanting to be creative side. But definitely have to think about how, how am I gonna present myself as an artist if I do the next show? So you actually caught me at a at a sort of big boss?
Julie Laurin 44:18
Oh, that’s interesting, because I’m also in a big pause. And I find that in my case, it’s because I don’t have anything to say, artistically, which is why I found it fascinating that you create you really created a lot when you were a new immigrant. Because for me, I created a lot during, you know, a time in my life where I was very transitionary and, and moving and living in Montreal. So do you still have something to say?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 44:45
Well, I hope so. I think so. But I think another reason for the pause is that I also don’t want to continue just doing this rote artmaking where I just keep doing this Same thing, because that’s been fairly successful. And that’s what I can sell. Like, it has to still be interesting for me as well. Because that’s the thing with art, right? It should actually really come from you and not be driven by, by what people want to see. Yeah, so that’s, that’s another reason for stopping is that I felt that I was doing too much of the same thing for the past 10 years or so. Where I thought, okay, now I’m just going into this sort of process of just making stuff that I know how to make and that I’ve made before, but packaged in a slightly different, you know, series. Right. So I want to make sure I, I still challenged myself with what I’m making.
Julie Laurin 45:47
Yeah, that’s very interesting, too. Hmm. I do wonder sometimes what inspires people to create new work? And I mean, new, not just a new series, but new, new work? I wonder if it’s, you know, almost needing to experience something new in their life to
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 46:05
its Yeah, as possible. And I’ve been thinking a lot about, you know, what are the materials that I will be using going forward? And if I’m so invested in this sustainable way of designing, is what I’m making in my art career. You know, sustainable, environmentally friendly, biodegradable, possibly, right. So do I need it to last forever? Do I want it to disintegrate over a five year span and disappear?
Julie Laurin 46:38
Interesting. Yeah. Because that could be a different new angle for you a new challenge, so to speak. Do you enjoy challenges?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 46:44
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be an art person in an engineering faculty.
Julie Laurin 46:53
True, true. Do you want? Do you enjoy teaching? I do.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 46:57
Yeah. It’s it’s a little challenging at the moment, because we’re online, of course. But yeah, I really, I really love the students and really enjoy. You know, when they’re enthusiastic, and, and yeah, they always work super hard. So I’m super appreciative of that. So
Julie Laurin 47:17
how’s the online thing going? I spoke with a math professor recently. And he told me how he’s doing it. How are you doing it?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 47:24
I’m mostly what they’re calling asynchronous at the moment. So I, I am teaching a small course. So I’m, in a way I’m lucky this semester. So I’m doing an art and engineering course. And I basically, write will sort of post the material for the week on a Friday, and then I meet them all on a Thursday for an hour on zoom. But that hour is spent looking through the work that they did for me. So everybody gets to see what everybody else did. And then I also am trying to go to museums virtually. So we went to the museum the other day and looked at the roomier paintings so that way, I can kind of show them, you know, a place and you know, the paintings in the place. And we can talk about, right, all the sort of nice art stuff that’s happening in the paintings and things and, and then the material for the week afters, usually based on an aspect of that.
Julie Laurin 48:23
Okay, yeah, the artist Steven fru. had told me that he taught an art class in one of your programs, I guess, a few years back. So do you still use art as a other than visiting art galleries? But do you have students do art?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 48:39
Yeah, so one of the things in order to sort of have them look at works of art is, I have tried to recreate that work of art with sort of minimal objects that they can find in their own house or in their, you know, in their dorm room. And those have been really fun. So they can, you know, recreate a Vermeer painting using three objects, and they can include themselves as a plus one. And those have been really fun.
Julie Laurin 49:07
Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. You must be like one of the fun teachers, right? I mean, I’m sure they look forward to your course.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 49:13
Well, I can only say I hope so. But we’ll see. We’ll see when the valuation time comes.
Julie Laurin 49:20
Oh, did the students actually evaluate the professor’s? Oh, yeah. Okay, I know nothing, obviously.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 49:26
Yeah, no, we, we get feedback and they don’t hold back either. So hey, you know, so.
Julie Laurin 49:34
Oh, and this is a slide from the whole rate. My professors thing online. This is early.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 49:38
I can’t even go there. Yeah,
Julie Laurin 49:40
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 49:42
Let’s do mortifying, but yeah, even getting reviews back. I mean, I, you know, I kind of have a quick peek at the numbers and then yeah, I mean, I, I tend to not dive too deeply into into the comments. It becomes personal pretty quickly. And yeah, we’re human too. So Absolutely, yeah, my skin is only so thick. Absolutely. But how
Julie Laurin 50:05
long have you been doing this?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 50:08
Um, yes, it’s probably 20 years or so. Oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, in general, in general, the students are pretty nice. So I’m, I’m lucky that way. But yeah, I, I try to pay attention and check in and say, okay, you know, zoom is, is the death of just about anything but so just still be in the back off if I’m going too much so. So I tried to, I tried to have a dialogue while we’re doing all this.
Julie Laurin 50:42
And you live in Calgary Now, a lot of people, including academics have been essentially leaving the cities. They’re just tired of living in the city. Are you feeling that that? That pool away from the city?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 50:55
Yeah, a little bit. I’ll do I have to say even though, right, I’m super interested in nature, and I love being out in nature. I’m very much a city slicker. I can’t help but like, yeah, I’m, I’m addicted to good coffee and good food and all that stuff. So right, I think I think being out in the boonies would not be good for me. Well, no,
Julie Laurin 51:19
no, I am curious, what? What was it about Canadian society that really either impressed you or kind of turned you off when you came to Canada?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 51:30
Oh, man, I have to be careful with this one. What impresses me and actually really impresses me, especially right now. And since we all had to stay home, since about March is is is how will Canadians handle this and how friendly they’ve stayed? And how supportive they’ve stayed. And yeah, in general, how polite and accommodating and careful that I’m really impressed with and always have been actually in Canada. This is just this general, kind of small town feel in very big cities. And Calgary when I moved here, it was maybe 500,000 600,000 people, and now we’re, I think 1.21 point 3 million, and I still find that they’ve been able to maintain that kind of civility. So I’m super happy that that’s that this is where I’m living right now. I could tell you that.
Julie Laurin 52:39
Yeah, it is, especially right now. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I you know, I’m born in Canada, born and raised in Northern Ontario. But for me, what’s been the hardest, being in Canada and having a lot of friends who are European or American is kind of the bit of a lack of ambition or a bit of a where I find that it’s very easy to kind of denigrate somebody who is going for it, you know, who’s really like ambitious and has great ideas and wants to like stand out. And so in Canada, it’s very common because of the politeness and to say sorry, all the time, is that we don’t we don’t like to stand out to very much as an artist, and you know, somebody who’s very well accomplished. Have you have you noticed
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 53:24
that a little bit? Not a huge amount, I think, I think they’re very open to having you do or be whatever, in my own experience. Right. And maybe that’s, that’s not for and that’s not the same for everyone. But I think, you know, I think the Yeah, I think in Canada, you can still stand out without having to. I think countries that have a lot of that sort of standing out are also countries where there’s a lot of bragging and a lot of grandstanding. Right. And I’m seeing the huge downside of that right now. And so I’m kind of changing my mind about whether that’s a good thing or not. So yeah,
Julie Laurin 54:08
it’s interesting because I, I love I’ve always admired, you know, New York City, for example, you know, New York City was a place I was gonna go to when I was young, New York City was a place that had everything it had in the 80s it had breakdancing it had you know, pizza slices, it had opportunities, you could become an artist. You know, it had art museums, Greenwich Village was still around, and and still affordable. Yeah. But I think you’re right. I think now it’s it’s a different. It’s a different society for artists, especially, I think, how is how is Calgary for artists? Is that a pretty welcoming community?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 54:46
I think so. And I think you know, there’s quite a bit of places that are being added. Right. So there’s a contemporary Calgary that opens in the old Science Center building, which is a beautiful, brutalist Building from the 60s that’s showing Yoko Ono right now and Omar ba. So there’s some there’s some good shows and good. The glenbow Museum, I believe is being revamped and getting a huge upgrade. So there is some, some momentum here. Of course, that came to a grinding halt in March. But places are trying to start kind of opening kind of sensibly again. But I think I think artmaking is going to be very much part of the new future that we have to build, which is more about collaboration and maybe a little bit more humility, because we’re destroying the place. So we need to do things differently.
Julie Laurin 55:47
Absolutely. Absolutely. Quick question for you. Before we end, this was one of the first things you’re going to do in terms of, you know, what, what’s the first maybe restaurant or what kind of food you’re going to go out to when this is all done. When this
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 56:01
is all done. I would like for us to go to Victoria to see my son. And to go for a meal at likkle which is a great little Flemish slash French restaurant, in Chinatown in Victoria.
Julie Laurin 56:22
That sounds divine and also weird that we’re placing for French food.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 56:28
It’s fabulous. It was an old Chinatown School, which is why it’s called likkle. And it’s a fabulous little place and they have fantastic Belgian beer. So
Julie Laurin 56:40
all right. Well, I look forward to hearing all about your foray into Victoria. And this is all done. Maryanne eggermont, it has been an absolute joy. I’ve learned so much today. I hope that people are going to listen to this and be inspired to to look, you know further into this field. Are there any books that you’d like to recommend to people who are interested in biomimicry and bio inspired design?
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 57:04
Well, not to be too self serving, but starts with Zygote Quarterly zqjournal.org. And we always reference where all our stuff is coming from. So there’s lots of books and links inside all the journals. So have a look at that. It’s all open source and downloadable. So I would start there.
Julie Laurin 57:26
Fantastic. All right. Well, thanks for coming to the podcast.
Dr. Marjan Eggermont 57:29
Thank you so much for the invite.
Julie Laurin 57:31
It’s my pleasure.
Zygote Quarterly: https://zqjournal.org/
U of Calgary bio: https://schulich.ucalgary.ca/contacts/marjan-eggermont
Marjan’s artwork: https://www.herringerkissgallery.com/marjan-eggermont
Little Ray’s Reptiles: https://littlerays.org/
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