2021 MRS Spring Meeting

Symposium X—Nick Rowe

Wednesday, April 21
10:15 am – 11:15 am ET

Nick RoweNick Rowe, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Tropical Rain-Forest Plants: A Source of Bio-Inspired New Materials, New Technologies and New Concepts

Tropical rain forests represent some of the most complex and diverse living structures. Plants make up the three-dimensional complexity of these ecosystems not only as trees, but also as creepers, vines, lianas, and epiphytes. This diversity of growth forms has evolved and is adapted for a wide range of physical and mechanical constraints. Big trees are well designed to be mechanically stable under self-loading but are also compliant when the wind blows. Vines and lianas exploit the stature of big trees by attaching and climbing on them towards the light. They show highly specialized properties to reach and attach to supports and then climb by economically, narrow stems which are amazingly flexible and highly resistant to mechanical failure. In this talk we will go on a walkabout of tropical rain forests and visit highly adapted growth forms, their remarkable mechanical properties and also their capacity for movement. In fact, plants, especially climbing plants, do move. Not only rather slowly by growth but also by internally controlled circling, spiraling, waving and oscillating movements - movements by solid materials without muscles. So, our tour will not only be a story about the different materials and structures that exist in these environments—what we might call a static view, it will also be a story with a dynamic view, how plants grow and move adaptively using smart additive processes (AKA growth), how they can move and position themselves, and how they can explore their environment and mechanically attach to supports.

About Nick Rowe

Nick Rowe is a biologist and Director of Research in the CNRS, at the AMAP research Laboratory in Montpellier, France. He grew up in the southeast of England and was educated in Rochester, Kent. He obtained both his BSc degree in honours botany and PhD degree from the University of Bristol, England. Being British and having worked and lived in France, Germany and Great Britain, his personal outlook and his research interests and collaborations in science remain highly international and multidisciplinary. Originally trained as an evolutionary biologist focusing on the origin and evolution of plants, he became increasingly interested in plant functional biology and biomechanics—how different plant species have evolved and adapted diverse functional and biophysical properties for surviving in a complex world. In recent years, he established a biomechanics laboratory in France, forming a home-base for research into the biomechanics and diversity of plants from the tropical forests of South America, west Africa and southeast Asia. Most recently, his research has focused on the structures and properties we see in today’s plant diversity and how this offers a source of inspiration for developing new materials, new technologies and new concepts. His latest projects are exploring the functional, ecological, evolutionary and developmental potential of plants as sources for new innovative technologies including research on climbing plant innovations for soft robotics.

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