The Nature of Efficiency: Innovation in Action Part 3: PAX Scientific – Extracting the Mathematics of Nature

PAX Scientific - Cultivating the Streamline PrincipleLooking once again to Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn’s book Earth the Sequel – The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming that explores the work people are doing to find real solutions for our current unsustainable energy economy we look, actually, to nature itself.

At least that’s what Jay Harmon does, and what led him to found PAX Scientific, based in San Rafael California.  

Harmon’s fascination with natural systems focuses on fluid dynamics and began many years ago as a boy growing up on the beaches of Australia. This led to a stint with the Australian Department of Fisheries and Wildlife where he worked as a naturalist studying flow patterns of ocean and air currents.

Harmon’s intuition allowed him to see in the movement of air and water, and in the materials that flowed through them, the underlying mathematical patterns, the geometry of design, and the natural efficiency it represented. Harmon understood that the nature of efficiency is best expressed in the efficiency of nature.  

From a cloud comes a fan, a lily becomes a water impeller. Suddenly industrial processes and products are made more efficient.

BiomimicryThe Path of Least Resistance is Not a Straight Line

Conventional wisdom has generally assumed that the technology required to move gases and liquids – propellers and pumps – should be based on the idea that the path of least resistance is always a straight line. Nature, with its approximately 3.8 billion years of research and development, would disagree, and moves liquids and gases in a swirling path of non-linearity. Attempts to move fluids and gases along a straight path create back-pressure, increase friction, reverse heat gain, and create cavitation. Left alone, nature is more efficient than any industrial system.  

Go With the Flow

The fascination with flow is not new. Scientists, philosophers, and artists have for centuries explored the design and underlying mathematical principals of nature: the Fibonacci sequence, logarithmic spirals, and the Golden Ratio. Harmon was the first to isolate the underlying geometries of these natural flow characteristics and apply them to technology in what he calls “The Streamlining Principle”.

The Streamlining Principle reflects Harmon’s understanding of natural flow and its application to design geometry. The Streamlining Principle is a part of what author Janine Benyus calls Biomimicry (Benyus founded the Biomimicry Institute to advance her ideas).  

The first application took shape in the form of the award-winning “WildThing” and “Goggleboat” series of watercraft, confirming Harmon’s ideas about applying natural flow into industrial design. From this came PAX Scientific, founded in 1997. PAX Scientific’s mission is centered on bringing the natural efficiencies that so inspired Harmon to industrial fluid-handling design and technology; fans, mixers, pumps, turbines, heat exchangers, ducts, propellers, and more.  

Further validation of Harmon’s Streamline Principle came from a research partnership between PAX Scientific, Cascade Technologies, and Stanford University. Harmon and PAX Scientific were definitely onto something.

Pax fanThe PAX Group

Through a network of subsidiary companies and master licensee agreements, PAX Scientific brings to market solutions for greater efficiencies in air handling, water and wastewater management, and industrial mixing applications. These companies include the PaxGroup, PAX Water, and PAX Scientific’s newest subsidiary, PAX Mixer:

  • The PaxGroup and its subsidiaries PaxFan, PaxIT, and PaxAuto (this does get a bit labyrinthine) manufacture high-efficiency fan and air movement technologies for the auto, IT, and refrigeration/HVAC industries.
  • Pax Water helps water utilities maintain water quality using Pax’s patented impeller design capable of moving 7 million gallons of water with just one revolving part.
  • Pax Mixer develops and markets rotary and in-line mixer technology for the petroleum, pharmaceutical, and beverage industries. Pax’s designs help these industries reduce energy use, lower capital cost, significantly reduce shear, and provide superior blend times and increased yields.

An example of the benefit PAX Scientific’s designs can bring is in every kitchen. A PAX-designed fan for refrigerators is 25% more efficient than conventional refrigerator fans, cutting overall electrical use by 4%, which translates into a reduction of 219,000 megawatts of electricity consumption. Fans are an essential component of every motor, compressor and pump, all of which account for 15% of all electricity consumed in the United States. It adds up fast.

The Pax Water Mixer

PAX Streamline is the R&D arm of PAX Scientific,  currently working on the development and marketing of power generation, propulsion, HVAC, refrigeration, and aerospace technologies.

PAX Scientific has a broad team of business and technical advisors including Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and former governor of the Federal Reserve Board and President of VISA U.S.A., H. Robert Heller.

From Harmon’s early days on the beaches of Australia, working as a naturalist studying nature’s design, to his work as the driving force behind PAX Scientific and all its subsidiary companies, he has shown that attempting to “improve upon nature” is often the wrong approach to finding sustainable solutions.

After all, efficiency is only natural.  

“To ensure that our actions reflect our values, we endeavor to ask ourselves:
does it benefit people, promote prosperity, and tread lightly on the planet”
-From PAX Scientific’s mission statement, and a perfect expression of 3P.



Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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