How do sea cucumbers manage to be both flexible and firm? How does a plant build up enough energy, just from drying out, to fire its seeds five times its own length? Why don't clams get tired of holding themselves shut? These questions all boil down to 'how do natural materials change shape', and it's a bloody good question if you want to make synthetic materials change shape.
Every day, I try and make shape-changing jelly. Every day, my jelly does not work in new and different ways. I am not really sure why it is not working, and every failure opens more questions and variables. I am eating quite a lot of biscuits.
I hadn’t really internalised this aspect of a PhD. I was told they were hard, but I guess I thought that meant long hours. I’m not working long hours at the moment. I don't have enough ideas to fill them.
For Lovelace day 2015: Professor Tomoko Ohta, the proposer of the 'nearly neutral' model of genetic drift. This important modification to earlier theories describes the effect of random changes in the genome on the evolutionary direction of a species. Her work has implications for the speed of evolution in small populations (such as those being created scarily rapidly by ecological damage, for example) and to estimate how long it takes species to diverge from each other. This year, she received the Crafoord prize, one of the world’s biggest scientific prizes, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences this year for her life’s work.
How did I end up working in nanotechnology and smart materials? This is a surprisingly difficult question, and for some reason involved three years as a writer. However, I’ve done some research (by which I mean I called my mum) and I have deduced the following:
The first thing I did when I got to university was measure the charge mass ratio of the electron. Well, actually, the first thing I did was to take off my top hat and start messing my room up, but the first thing I did in labs was that. I then proceeded to spend four years peering indecently closely at the components of nature, either measuring them, calculating with them, or cursing their discoverers. After that, I fear I may have got a bit blasé about minute measurements. You know you've got a problem when you consider 100 nanometres to be 'quite big, really', an additional nanosecond a day to be worth worrying about, and a 0.1 degree difference to affect your cooking.
While I was looking for a diagram to put in my recent research project (to illustrate atomic force microscopy, because I couldn't face drawing it), I found The Open Source Handbook of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. This is great! Not only for us students who cannot manage to stay awake in our nanotech lectures (sorry Prof. Petrashov...) and who are prepared to chance our coursework on internet hearsay; but also for everyone else who doesn't want to pay £3000 (or more?) per year of education, but does want to know about the tech we're building the future out of.