Impact Spotlights

Jay Harman: Biomimicking Our Way to a Better World

December 29, 2015
Jay Harmon at The Lemelson Foundation's 20th Anniversary celebration

“Nature has already solved every single problem facing humanity.”

-Jay Harman   

Jay Harman, one of this year’s AAAS-Lemelson Ambassadors, is a naturalist, entrepreneur, and founder of PAX Scientific, Inc. PAX is a fluid dynamics research and design firm that uses biomimicry – emulation of nature’s patterns and strategies to solve human challenges – to develop energy-efficient industrial tools. Harman believes that inefficient energy usage is the root of many problems in industry today, and that simple solutions can be found in nature. All we need to do is pay attention.

The Ambassadors program has made it much more likely that Harman’s nature-based solutions will get the attention they deserve. The program raises the platform of his work through speaking engagements and publications that target key audiences in the realms of engineering, technology, industry, and beyond. The goals of the Ambassadors program is to orient and prepare a new and diverse generation of inventors to become “leaders and change agents” in promoting invention’s role in creating new businesses and products.

“Changing the industrial world is possible, probable, and inevitable. But it takes patience and creativity – often bringing together people from diverse fields like biology, engineering, and business – to find the right solutions. We need to be sustainable and look to nature for feasible models,” said Jay Harman. “The AAAS-Lemelson Ambassadors program has helped give me the opportunity to get this important message out to many more people who are can initiate or support industrial innovation.”

Vortex technology

Born in Australia, Harman was exposed at an early age to marine wildlife and spent a lot of time observing marine organisms and their interactions. One organism that particularly interested him was seaweed which, despite being 

Conventional wisdom says that up until the industrial revolution, humans were captivated by the vortex shape. It appeared in art, architecture, and religious symbols. But during the industrial revolution, humans abandoned use of the spiral and adopted the idea that straight lines, being the fastest way from point A to point B, are most efficient.thin and easily breakable by human hands, is able to withstand powerful ocean currents. He noticed that seaweed adapts to a vortex shape in response to current, molding itself ingeniously to the path of least resistance.

Harman rejected this notion. His observations and study showed that nature always develops more efficient systems than humans and that those systems never use perfectly straight lines. Harman began to work on developing a model vortex that could utilize nature’s “blueprint for all life” to create more energy-efficient and cost-effective industrial tools.

The first model he produced was a small and streamlined water pump composed of a tripod powered by three lightbulbs. The simplicity of the design belies its power; his device is capable of circulating 10 million gallons of water, or a pool of water the size of a football field 30 feet deep.  

Excited about the model’s potential applications, Harman took the vortex to a number of Fortune 500 companies promising to save them energy and money. Response was good, but the model could not be implemented in the companies’ traditional interfaces. Undeterred, Harman decided to start his own company, PAX Scientific. Since its founding, PAX Scientific has produced a number of tools – from fans to mixers to desalination devices – that utilize the innovative vortex model to solve common industrial problems.

One such problem is stagnant water in water tanks. Traditionally, the top layer of still water gets heated by the sun, creating a breeding ground for problematic disinfectant byproducts . Maintenance workers must then pour a mix of potentially hazardous chemicals into the water to clean it. One of PAX Scientific’s products solves this problem by circulating water in tanks, reducing time and money expenditure and eliminating the need for chemicals.  

“Jay’s work connecting efficiency to nature-based models could have tremendous applications in the industrial world. We are thrilled that as an AAAS-Lemelson Ambassadors program he can be a model for others on how invention can make our world more sustainable,” said Dr. Alexander Nicholas, program officer at The Lemelson Foundation.

To date, more than 1,250 PAX Scientific products have been installed in North America, Australia, and the Middle East. Harman believes that the vortex model has the potential to transform industry, making it more energy efficient, cost effective, and sustainable. “We have the potential to halve the world’s energy bill,” he asserts, “It is absolutely not inevitable that this world is going down the toilet. We can make that statement loud and clear.”