Creative Engineering from A Jersey Girl

Chris Alice Kratzer’s fascination with nature began as a little girl growing up along the Delaware River in New Jersey. Little did she know that nature would inspire her art, writing, and passion to invent things based on nature’s blueprints. By her assessment, it is appropriate that we turn to nature for solutions to problems that we have created.

“Taking inspiration from nature, I think, is one way that we can try to address these problems,” Krazter, who goes by Alie, observes. “Because nature is a system that has been evolving to address challenges for the past four billion years. There are some very great solutions to the problems that we’re currently facing if we choose to look for them. I think that’s our responsibility.”

Alie’s inspiration is revealed in her book The Social Wasps of North America, a detailed field guide to hundreds of species of wasps. She spent four years researching, writing and drawing more than 900 illustrations. Her inspiration further sparked an idea to invent a new type of home insulation based on the nest of the Arctic Yellowjacket which builds its nest inside icy permafrost.

“These insects can somehow survive inside of this nest inside of the permafrost without freezing to death,” she learned. Armed with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a lifelong curiosity about how things work, she came up with an insulation design that has earned ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) certification of 4R/in, comparable to fiberglass insulation used in walls, and recently won a National Science Foundation grant for $275,000 for further development. How soon before we can find Yellowjacket Insulation at Home Depot?

Alie Kratzer holds up a panel of Yellowjacket Insulation
Alie Kratzer holding a prototype of Yellowjacket insulation

“That’s a stretch goal for us,” she says with a smile. “We want to start out with individual homeowners to make sure that we iron out all the kinks before we scale up to large distributors.”

The search for a manufacturer is currently underway.

You might find this remarkable young woman pretty compelling, as did I. She has achieved so much at a young age and her creative star continues to rise. Here’s my podcast and video episode.


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