Squid Pro Quo

This morning, after quite the trek across Singapore to SIMTech, at the Nanyang Technological University campus (the streets of which are, perplexingly for anyone attempting to navigate the place, all variations on the theme of ‘Nanyang’- i.e. ‘Nanyang Crescent’, ‘Nanyang Road’, etc), we were treated to a series of talks on manufacturing technologies- everything from polymer joining to 3d printing to laser surface machining. Afterwards, we toured the SIMTech manufacturing labs, inspecting countless 3d prints (including the fused deposition double helix shown below), lathe-CNC hybrids (similar to the 5-axis machines used to great effect by La Trobe University, to create instruments and endstations for work done at the Synchrotron) and roll-to-roll manufacturing equipment (intended to eventually produce flexible electronic devices and displays).

Our afternoon briefing on NTU, given by Prof White, provided an interesting window into the history of Singapore as well as the parallels between the development of higher education in Singapore and in Australia. Evolving out of the need for a counterpart to NUS (due to the increasing saturation of NUS’ preallocated grounds), NTU was built on the former grounds of Nanyang University, a chinese-language university that grew out of the desire of Singapore’s large ethnically Chinese population for a university reflecting the identity of Singapore’s Chinese citizenry; Much like RMIT, Swinburne and UNSW (my brother’s and grandfather’s alma mater), NTU started as an Engineering-only institution, growing outward into the sciences and humanities- the reverse of La Trobe University’s growth pattern.
Amongst my favourites of the afternoon’s PhD talks was Hiew Shu Hui’s talk on a biomimetic material based on the teeth and beak of the utterly horrifying Humboldt squid (named for Alexander von Humboldt, one of the most influential and successful scientists of the 19th century, unfortunately forgotten due to sharing a century and field with Darwin). This particular squid exhibits quite a hard beak (to be expected) as well as razor-sharp teeth surrounding its suckers (also common), however both are entirely made from proteins similar to spider silk proteins, arranged in a structure similar to carbon nanotube forests.

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