W. H. Bragg Lecture 2013

Some small steps towards Artificial Life

Presented by Prof. Paul Chaikin, New York University
Wednesday, 30th October 2013 - 4:30pm


The properties we often associate with living things are motility, metabolism, self-replication and evolution. According to the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman: “What I can’t create, I don’t understand”. We thought we’d give it a shot - understanding life - and in the process we’ve made two different systems, one that exhibits both autonomous motility and metabolism and another which is the first artificial system that can replicate arbitrarily designed motifs. The first system, artificial swimmers, provides insight into many natural phenomena such as a flocking of birds and schooling of fish. The second system uses diurnal cycles of temperature and light and at present is doubling each cycle, growing exponentially. It provides a new way of producing many, many copies of nanoscale devices and may give insights into the origin of conventional life on earth.  We even have initiated an elementary form of evolution.

About the W. H. Bragg Lecture

About the W.H. Bragg Lecture

In 2004 UCL's Department of Physics and Astronomy decided to establish a series of annual lectures celebrating major advances in condensed matter physics. The series was named after William Henry Bragg, who was the Head of Department from 1915 to 1923. X-ray diffraction analysis of crystal structures began with W. H. Bragg’s instrumentation and insight, and with the availability of synchrotron sources it has developed into an important tool in modern biology.