Friday, February 28, 2014

A model public lecture

Scientists giving public lectures face a formidable challenge. It needs to be both interesting, exciting, and accessible to a broad audience. Hopefully, the speaker can communicate something not just about science but also about how science is done.

Yesterday I attended a very nice public lecture at UQ. Professor Ullrich Steiner from Cambridge spoke on How Nature Makes Materials. It nicely bridged physics, chemistry, and biology. His work on photonic structures in nature is described here.

The plant seed shown on the right is particularly amazing. Steiner and colleagues found a fifty year old one in a museum in Cambridge.

One thing, among others, that I appreciated was the lack of hype and the sober assessment of what his work in biomimetics has achieved. Sometimes it has provided some insight into how biological systems make and utilise specific materials. Some of the biomimetic materials and structures his group has made have some of the desirable features. But, most are also not yet commercially viable.

One minor comment.
In the introduction and motivation the notion was presented that evolution has produced optimal structures. I disagree with this commonly promoted claim.
Evolution does not optimise everything.
It just produces structures that work well enough to work together with many other components to increase probability of survival.

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