The Evolution of Equilibrium: thermodynamic pattern formation outside of living cells

Date and Time: 
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 2:30pm
Prof. Alison Sweeney
Yale University

Implicitly, the project of biomaterials and biomimetics considers structures in the topologically extracellular space of organisms: beetle carapace, feathers, butterfly wings, and wood are all extracellular materials. Our work seeks to make this implicit assumption explicit, and understand the material pattern formation that imbues function in these materials via equilibrium thermodynamic theories.  This talk will look at two pattern-forming biomaterial systems, plant pollen and squid lenses, in which the relevant pattern and function emerges from equilibration of biological components in the extracellular space.  Squid lenses have evolved to explore the patchy particle phase diagram, while pollen patterns form from a phase transition modulated by membrane elasticity.  Quantifying the evolution of these systems can provide further insight into molecular function, which can in turn inform efforts to realize these principles in engineered systems.


Prof. Alison Sweeney received her Ph.D. in Biology in 2007 from Duke University, where she was a NSF GRFP Fellow and a James B. Duke Scholar. She has published many seminal articles in her research area of molecular evolution of self-assembling protein photonic structures in molluscs, optical characterization of the sophisticated roles they play in camouflage and photosynthetic symbiosis, cellular and biochemical mechanisms of dynamic camouflage, characterization of the open ocean light environment in which animals have evolved sophisticated camouflage, and spectral changes during twilight and their effects on visual ecology.