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An unusual background in insect science and mechanical engineering led Chris Alice "Alie" Kratzer to the startling realization that the nests of yellowjackets - of all things - could lead to a breakthrough in thermal insulation technology.


While researching wasps for her first book, Alie noted that Arctic Yellowjackets (Dolichovespula albida) build spherical paper nests in cavities within permafrost high above the Arctic circle. She was amazed that these little wasps could survive in such extreme conditions. As it turns out, the nests are protected from the frost by a layer of carefully-engineered air pockets within the paper structure that surrounds the nest – and the thermal properties of that structure were both highly efficient and previously unknown to science.  If the nest's properties could be replicated, they could revolutionize the insulation industry!

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Image © Chris Alice Kratzer (2022)

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Alie pitched the idea to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)'s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) in 2019. The project team researched the concept and developed a design for a rudimentary prototype for the 2019 Biomimicry Design Challenge through the Biomimicry Institute, but - without any fundin- the team was unable to perform thermal testing to validate their research, and they did not place in the competition.

2020 - 2021

In 2020, Alie continued the project through her new company, Owlfly LLC. She hired Olivier Montmayeur and Liv Breglia – fellow alumni from RIT and ESW – to help perform extensive thermodynamics testing and modeling. The team constructed a custom heat transfer test rig to quickly analyze and compare insulation prototypes. By the end of 2021, the Owlfly team was able to replicate the thermal physics of yellowjacket nests using the principles of biomimicry. The team named the new insulation YellowJacket™ after the wasps that inspired it.


The Owlfly team pursued grant funding and private investment to build production equipment to bring YellowJacket™ to market. Automation engineer Zoey Katz joined the team to improve Owlfly's in-house manufacturing capability with custom robotics.

2023 - 2024

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Owlfly LLC $275,000 to aid in the research and development of YellowJacket™ insulation. Project information can be found here. The money will be used to fund the development of better automated manufacturing equipment and scale YellowJacket™ production to meet market demand and lower cost for consumers. We also intend to use the funding to develop even better prototypes. The thermal resistance of YellowJacket™ is certified at 4.0 R/in, and the best commercial insulation is certified at 4.3 R/in, which should be attainable.

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