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Made in Montana: Biomimicry and The Gadget Gap

Montana Inspires Design

By Eric Oravsky

Montana’s Whitebark pine trees look as if they were beaten down by the unforgiving conditions of the mountain environment they live in. And yet, they’ve inspired a water bottle design in Portugal.

When Logoplaste, a Portuguese pack- aging manufacturer, asked designer Carlos Rego to invent a lightweight, but still strong and cool-looking plastic vessel, he turned to asknature.org for inspiration.

Produced by Biomimicry Institute 3.8, a Missoula-based consultancy, the website features all kinds of tricks organisms use to overcome challenges posed by nature.

The Whitebark pine’s secret to with- standing heavy snow loads and incredible winds lies in its spiral growth structure. Rego gave his bottle twisted ribs, as opposed to the conventional parallel rib pattern.

To the consumer, the design has no great advantage, other than that it is a little lighter in plastic.

But Vitalis — a bottled-water brand — liked the product, not just for its recognizable design, but also because it ships very well. When full, the bottles with the twisted ribs can withstand 2,000 Newtons of pressure, which saves the company 250 tons of raw materials each year.

“If it wasn’t for Ask Nature, it would have taken much longer to do research, which would have made the project at the time unfeasible,” Rego said.

UM journalism students flush with technology

By Stephanie Parker

Nine out of 10 students at the University of Montana’s School of Journalism own a laptop, but many still rely on computer labs to practice the craft.

A survey of 100 pre-professional program students, designed by journal- ism professor Lee Banville, found that 56 percent use campus computers on a regular basis, while 44 percent mostly do without them.

“Even if a lot of students have laptops, they’re still highly dependent on the computer labs,” Banville said.

Across the country, schools like Virginia Tech and the University of Florida are requiring students to own or rent a laptop. But Banville said that, for now, the J-School will refrain from following suit for two main reasons: a potential enrollment drop because of expensive new requirements, and the realization that despite the presence of mobile technology, students still rely on university-provided labs.

Journalism students don’t often own expensive software required to edit photos, web pages, or video, the survey found. They overwhelmingly use campus facilities for group projects, Banville added.

To help satisfy this need, UM is building the Learning Commons in the revamped Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library. It will have multimedia pods for creating presentations, collaborative and private work areas, as well as digital learning labs where students can access computers and university tools, and theater-style seating to allow for readings, concerts, and dissertations.

If UM’s strategy is any indication, future campus planners may focus less on the technology itself and more on creating an environment that encourages collaboration and closeness.