Academy Lecture by George Whitesides 20 May 2014

Simplicity: the ultimate sophistication

Professor Georges Whitesides, Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor Harvard University.


Simple does it: from SAMs to paper-based devices and soft robotics

‘Complexity’ is relatively simple to think about (at least for academics); ‘simplicity’ is more complex/complicated. This seminar will consider ‘simplicity’ (together with an idea we call ‘stackability’) as a strategy in research, using two examples - one from ongoing large-scale technology, and one from our own research.

Short biography

George M. Whitesides. Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor. Born, 1939, Louisville, KY. A.B., Harvard, 1960. Ph.D., 1964, California Institute of Technology (with J.D. Roberts). Faculty: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963 to 1982; Harvard University, 1982-present.

Memberships and Fellowships: Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, American Philosophical Society; Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, New York Academy of Sciences, World Technology Network, and American Chemical Society; Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Science; Honorary Member of the Materials Research Society of India; Honorary Fellow of the Chemical Research Society of India, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Royal Society of Chemistry (UK); Foreign Associate of the French Academy of Sciences; Honorary Professor, Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR), India.

Present research activities include: physical and organic chemistry, materials science, biophysics, water in biology, surface science, microfluidics, self-assembly, micro- and nanotechnology, science for developing economies, the origin of life, rational drug design, magnetic levitation, dissipative systems and emergence, complexity, and simplicity.

Professor Wilhelm T. S. Huck, Physical Organic Chemistry, Radboud University Nijmegen


Synthesis of out-of-equilibrium oscillating chemical reaction networks

System-level functions of living systems, such as homeostasis, bistability, and temporal pattern formation, are controlled by complex chemical reaction networks (CRNs) whose characteristics transcend the properties of individual molecules and reactions. Despite substantial efforts in the engineering of complex molecular systems, the construction of functional out-of-equilibrium networks that take advantage of the versatility of synthetic chemistry remains a major challenge. Here, we present a versatile strategy for ‘synthesizing’ programmable enzymatic reaction networks in microfluidic flow reactors that exhibit sustained oscillations.

Short biography

Prof. Wilhelm T. S. Huck is Professor of Physical Organic Chemistry. He received his PhD (promoter Prof. David Reinhoudt) in 1997 from the University of Twente. After postdoctoral research with Prof. Whitesides at Harvard University, he took up a position in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, where he was promoted to Reader (2003) and Full Professor of Macromolecular Chemistry (2007). He became Director of the Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis in 2004 and in 2010 he moved to the Radboud University Nijmegen. His new group is focused on the physical organic chemistry of the cell and aims to elucidate, using model systems, the influence of the special nature of the cellular environment on complex reaction networks in cells. He was elected to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in 2012. He has published around 200 papers and supervised ~20 PhD students. His research group in Nijmegen is supported by an ERC advanced grant (2010) and a VICI award (2011).

Professor Dirk J. Broer, Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, Functional Organic Materials, Eindhoven University of Technology, Institute for Complex Molecular Systems


Morphing dynamics in ordered polymer networks

Polymers that can change shape or can change their surface topography in response to a trigger have a wide application potential varying from micro-robotics to avionics. Preferably this morphing proceeds fast and reversibly. We developed new morphing principles with a variety of trigger principles such as temperature, light, pH or the presence of chemicals or gases. The lecture focusses on UV actuation and demonstrate that by accurate positioning of well-ordered molecules in the space of a polymer thin film or coating the deformation figures can be pre-set and can even become rather complex. In a special case the surface topography can be altered by light. Surface structures can be switch on from a flat surface to a corrugated surface, which can be either regularly structured as in a line grating or irregularly structured as in a fingerprint. The surface topographies are dynamic and disappear as soon as the light is switch off. An interesting feature is that the surface tribology can be altered be UV exposure.

Short biography

Dirk J. Broer is a polymer chemist and specialized in polymer structuring and self-organizing polymer networks. In 1973 he joined Philips Research (Eindhoven, Netherlands) to work on a manifold of research topics such as data storage, telecommunication and display optics. He developed the process of in-situ photopolymerization of liquid crystal monomers to form densely crosslinked and monolithically ordered liquid crystal networks which is presently applied in LCDs to enhance them on brightness, contrast and viewing angle. From 2003 to 2010 he was senior research fellow and vice president Philips Research.

In 1996 he was appointed as part-time professor at the Eindhoven University to become fulltime professor in 2010 to chair the department Functional Organic Materials and Devices with a research emphasis on clean technologies as energy harvesting, water treatment and healthcare. Prof. Broer is member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), recipient of the 2011 KNAW Gilles Holst medal and the 2014 SID Rajchman Prize for outstanding scientific or technical contributions to the research on flat panel displays. In total, he has around 240 publications in peer reviewed journals and 120 US patents.