Blog: Bioinspired Materials 2020
Bioinspired Materials 2020 was set to take place from the 16th to the 20th of March in the idyllic countryside of Irsee, Germany. Due to circumstances that need little explanation, it was quickly reinstated as a web conference, held in Zoom, that welcomed attendees from multiple continents to discuss topics that included and combined disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics and engineering – all interested in replicating and reinterpreting the many complex systems that nature produces.
Given the time limits imposed and the unpredictable nature of the travel situation, I was incredibly impressed at how quickly the conference was rearranged and realigned to ensure the exchange of ideas could still take place. Sessions ran smoothly, connections were stable and it was so much like a standard conference that I had to suppress the instinctual need to clap at the end of each talk. There was even a virtual poster session with small talks to outline the topic, followed by links to view the uploaded posters and a discussion forum to facilitate it. My own talk, on the use of gelatin in print and photography, was somewhat the odd one out – but attendees were still positive and responsive to it.
Personal highlights included the plenary lecture from Dr. Silvia Vignolini (University of Cambridge), who discussed ‘Colour Engineering’ – the many types of physical structures that are produced in nature that give rise to the striking metallic colours of beetles and, in particular, the sharp blue of the Pollia condensata fruit. Prof. Dr. Marcy Zenobi Wong (ETH Zurich) gave a fascinating overview of methods of fabrication and printing with biomaterials and discussed how ‘jammed’ or entangled bioinks can be used to create porous, oriented and stable complex structures. Dr. Sonja Baumgartner (TU Wien) showcased the possibilities of a hybrid stereolithography/inkjet printing platform for mimicking nacre structures seen in seashells. The closing plenary lecture, from Prof. Alfred J Crosby (University of Massachusetts Amherst), discussed explosive movement and high-acceleration mechanics in natural systems. You can get an idea of these sorts of mechanics from this NatGeo video, that is packed full of some amazingly dramatic sound effects.
Bioinspired Materials was a fascinating event, in many ways. Even beyond the content, it provided an insight into alternative ways a conference can be run and still provide a route for connection between international communities, especially in a world where we’re having to re-think our relationship with international travel.