Natural Systems and the Systems Engineering Process: A Primer

Nature provides a wealth of solutions that can inspire engineers to create better designs. The Primer on Natural Systems is developed as a tool for Systems Engineering professionals and Project Managers to introduce and integrate Natural Systems thinking and approaches into their processes and products. By asking “How can Nature help me solve this problem?” engineers can leverage living and non-living systems to provide inspiration for solutions to system engineering challenges. 


The primer:  

  • provides new pathways for project success,  
  • demonstrates the value of taking inspiration from nature to solve engineering problems,   
  • brings the process of learning from natural systems to everyday engineering,  
  • provides resources and examples to make billions of years of innovation more accessible,  
  • provides a foundation to learn about patterns, complicity, resilience and sustainability in natural systems.


Our Contributors



Randall Anway, AIA, is a licensed Architect in New York and Connecticut and a certified Biomimicry Specialist. He holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Connecticut.  His design and research experiences span from buildings to systems in research, corporate, non-profit, and small business settings. An active member of the American Institute of Architects, and the International Council on Systems Engineering, his volunteer work helps support professional development and continuing education for architects and engineers.


Kai’s career spans 4 countries, she got her BA from Durham University, UK, studied à L'Institut d'etudes européennes’ in Paris and added a “Human Capital Strategy” specialization in the US. In her various professional roles she gravitated naturally towards systems Tech and IT. In 2012 she realized the need to center her professional activity around regenerative principles. Since then, Kai has been active in circularity and as a Biomimicry practitioner. She launched two Circular Economy Club City chapters in Canada, is Ambassador for the "Circular Economy Institute", and has been selected as a member of MIT Media Lab's "Global Community Bio CoP”. Kai advises local stakeholders on tools and strategies to implement circularity at a bioregional level. She joined NSWG/IONCOSE because systems engineering is vital in delivering sustainable solutions to solve multiple man-made crises. As co-chair she hopes NSWG continues to deliver vital tools to substantially change human systems in our crucial decade. 



Margo Farnsworth works as a writer, biomimicry educator and consultant in strategic development for organizations. She has served as faculty, visiting faculty and advises students internationally as a Fellow for the Biomimicry Institute where she also judged their Global Design Challenges. Margo has worked as a naturalist, nonprofit Executive Director and Senior Fellow for a Southeastern watershed organization where she brokered a bi-state water agreement and advised Federal departments under two administrations. She now serves as a board member and advisor to two native plant organizations and The New Territory magazine. Her writing can be seen in the anthology Wildness: Relations of People and Place in addition to nonfiction nature journals and elsewhere. Her book, Biomimicry and Business: How Companies Are Using Nature’s Strategies to Succeed tells the stories of business leaders using biomimicry and its effects on their companies. 


George Studor, the co-founder of the INCOSE Natural Systems Working Group, retired from USAF (20 years) and also from NASA (30years). He was a C-130 pilot, Astronautical Engineer (BS, MS) with structures and controls, who was detailed to NASA Space Shuttle Program Office in 1983. He was in charge of the return to flight schedules after the Challenger Accident, the Verification Program for the International Space Station, and add-on wireless instrumentation systems for both Space Shuttle and Space Station. George was detailed to Montana State University for 2 years as an adjunct professor. Other key technologies he developed were Laser Dynamic Range Imager used for Space Shuttle on-orbit inspections and on-orbit model validation of the International Space Station, passive wireless instrumentation, “Fly-by-wireless” architecture, and various technologies for on-orbit inspection.  At 68, George currently has a keen interest in his father’s WWII legacy and participates or leads some local government and church activities. 



Marjan Eggermont is a Professor (Teaching) at the Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary and is currently Associate Dean Sustainability. She is a Biomimicry Institute Fellow working in the field since 2004 with a focus on visualization and abstraction. With co-editors Tom McKeag (San Francisco) and Norbert Hoeller (Toronto) she co-founded and designs Zygote Quarterly (, an online bio-inspired design journal to provide a platform to showcase the nexus of science and design using case studies, news and articles. She served on the board of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) from 2014-2017 and is a member of Sigma Xi. Marjan was awarded Best of Biomimicry: Excellence in Biomimicry Education in 2013 by Biomimicry 3.8 and has received an ASME Curriculum Innovation Award and a STLHE Alan Blizzard Award.  


Paul J. McGoey, has over 40 years applying Systems Engineering in a career spanning National Labs, Aerospace, Energy, and Process industries.   Education consists of Master's degrees in Systems Engineering, Business Administration, and Strategic Planning & Critical Infrastructure.  He is active in several professional societies, including INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering);  IS4IE (International Society for Industrial Ecology);  IEEE, IISE (Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering); ISSS (International Society for Systems Science), and SDS (System Dynamics Society).  He is a member of INCOSE Enchantment chapter and holds a CSEP certification.   



Curt McNamara, P.E. is a retired design and systems engineer with substantial experience in Education. He is a biomimicry education fellow and past co-chair of the working group. His current project is a book on Buckminster Fuller’s tools for design and systems change. 


Dr. Jacquelyn K. Nagel is an engineer, academic, and consultant. At James Madison University she is a professor in the Department of Engineering.  She earned her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State University, and her M.S. and B.S. in Manufacturing Engineering and Electrical Engineering, respectively, from Missouri University of Science & Technology.  As a multidiscipline engineer her diverse areas of expertise are bio-inspired design (BID), mechatronic systems, and manufacturing automation.  As a student, she worked at Kimberly-Clark, Motoman, and Intel and gained experience in the areas of industrial automation, manufacturing, and sensors. As a professor she has grown an international reputation for BID process and pedagogy research and has given invited talks/webinars/lectures to SWE, INCOSE, NASA, and at universities in Canada, France, and USA. As a consultant, she leads practicing engineers and organizations through the process of taking inspiration from nature to solve problems.   



Dennis Tuckowski is a Principal Systems Engineer with ground vehicle systems for SAIC and co-chair of the INCOSE Natural Systems Working Group. He is an ASEP with over 15 years experience in product development and designs in over 40 million consumer products. 


Alex Wolf is a visual and spatial thinker who made the transition from academic schools to art school and is working to help others who are spatially skilled find their niche in STEAM fields. She’s working on the patternABC, first spatial alphabet based on nature’s core patterns to build the design curriculum our schools are missing, and working with researchers to test it as it develops.  Visual “alphabets” aim to serve all, but especially those who relate primarily spatially, who often have trouble with verbal and math skills. Increasing the depth of engagement in preschool creates a foundation for spatial skills in K-12, where they are “implied everywhere yet taught nowhere” (NAS, 2006). The patternABC was pilot-tested for UNICEF in Tanzania, is encoded into the PeTaL AI at NASA, and used in teaching bio-inspired design at U Calgary and MCAD. A chapter on the pattern alphabet in Elsevier’s   Biomimicry for Materials, Design and Habitats, 1st Edition, Innovations and Applications in Materials, Design, and the Built Environment also argues it is the first alphabet for nature’s core patterns, and hence the first alphabet for biomimicry. At na2ure, Alex also created the Periodic Table for Biology, the motionabc, and spatial-transformations, and has published award-winning games/apps. She co-chairs the International Council of Systems Engineers (INCOSE) Natural Systems Working Group (NSWG) which works closely with the NASA V.I.N.E.  team Glenn Research Center. Besides a BFA in Sculpture, she received an AIGA Design Award, and interned for graphic design legend Milton Glaser. 


The Natural Systems Engineering Working Group was established to improve Systems Engineering processes and practices with the application of natural systems knowledge and approaches. The goal is for System Engineers to take full advantage of natural systems, including both biological systems and the elements and forces of nature.


Press Release

SAN DIEGO (24 February 2023) – The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) Natural Systems Working Group is pleased to announce the publication of the Natural Systems Primer.

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