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Towards the Evolutionary Genesis Engine

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As Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow and named as one of the EPSRC top 10 inspiring scientists and engineers in the UK in 2014, Professor Lee Cronin is one of the UK’s most exciting young researchers. His research is pioneering a new field of inorganic biology, constructing complex functional molecular architectures from non-biological building blocks and the potential of these to revolutionize modern technologies, with applications ranging from developing materials for solar fuel cells that effectively produces a liquid fuel suitable for transport use, to 3D-printing of drugs important for the developing world. His talk will reflect on the most important recent findings from his group, including making the first 3D printed electrochemical device and finding a new method for hydrogen production for renewable energy.

How exactly did life first arise on planet earth, how long did it take, and what chemical soup was required to initiate the process to move from the inorganic to the organic and biological world? These are fantastically elusive questions and, whilst it is not possible to ever answer them for sure, a growing number of researchers are suggesting that it may be possible to simulate and even recreate the process. In this contribution Professor Lee Cronin will outline a new theory that sets out the possible limits on the chemical and material space as well, as time limits, that needs to be searched along with a practical implementation of this theory in the development of a chemical reaction platform array. This theory is needed since one of the barriers preventing the development of reactor systems suitable for exploring ‘open’ or dissipative chemical systems, e.g. molecular replication or open-ended formation of proto-cells, is the programming of fluidic reactor systems.

In our laboratory we have recently developed a programmable fluidic system comprising a series of linear flow systems, coupled network reactor arrays with a sensor array, and control actuation. In this research, by coupling separate reactions in both space and time, we aim to control the assembly of kinetically unstable structures that are maintained away from thermodynamic equilibrium. In a nutshell we will use a fully automated semi-batch-semi-flow system to explore the non-equilibrium assembly of inorganic structures, combinatorial organic reactions combined with gradients of light, pH, redox, organic cations selecting for catalysis, emergence functionality and persistence of morphology.

Thus, by generating a vast population of chemical inputs, stochastic chemical reactions, followed by an assay that will allow selection and feedback, Professor Lee Cronin will explain how we are developing a new paradigm for evolution outside of biology.”

Everyone is welcome. Free for members, £2 on the door for non-members. Followed by refreshments (that means smoothies, cheese and grapes!).

This talk is part of the SciSoc – Cambridge University Scientific Society series.

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