Arts & Culture Bio & Life Sciences

How Nanotech Flower Design Informs the Future of Materials Science

You might not think that a guy who says he spends his day getting lost “in a microworld of flowers or corals that you made yourself” is making a major contribution to science. But Wim L. Noorduin, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard, is combining chemicals in a beaker to grow and shape crystalline structures that demonstrate how complex shapes evolve in nature. His micron-sized sculptures—the diameter of a human hair—appear as intricate cake decorations, vast fields of blooming flowers, and coral reefs when viewed under an electron microscope.

Vice Creators Project NanotechThe artistic beauty of Noorduin’s work won him a place on the cover of Science last year. And this week The Creators Project, a partnership between Intel and VICE that celebrates the innovative use of technology “to push the boundaries of creative expression,” released a short video about the project.

Joanna Aizenberg, a Professor of Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and a pioneer in the field of biomimetic inorganic materials synthesis, says in the film that Noorduin’s creations can be used as a model system for understanding “the emergence of form, curvature, and complex hierarchical architectures.” Knowing how and why things assemble, and how and why the emergence of form leads to certain structures, she says, is critical to “rationally design materials and complex systems to use in the future.”

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