After a pandemic-enforced hiatus, the Alan Tayler lecture is returning on Monday 28th November at 5pm in the Bernard Sunley Theatre. Tea will be served from 4.30pm. This is a public lecture, so there is no need to book. However, we’d recommend arriving promptly to avoid disappointment.

We are proud to sponsor the lecture in memory of a true innovator in industrial mathematics. This year, Prof. Alain Goriely will be presenting ‘From neurons and sunflowers to actuators and soft robots: the fascinating dynamics of active materials.

Prof. Alain Goriely FRS

Prof. Alain Goriely is a mathematician with broad interests in dynamical systems, mathematical methods, mechanics, sciences, and engineering. He is well known for his contributions to fundamental and applied solid mechanics, and, in particular, for the development of a mathematical theory of biological growth.

He joined the University of Oxford in 2010 as the inaugural Statutory Professor of Mathematical Modelling and Fellow of St. Catherine’s College. He is currently the Director of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. In addition, Alain enjoys scientific outreach based on problems connected to his research including tendril perversion in plants, twining plants, umbilical cord knotting, whip cracking, the shape of seashells, brain modelling, and he is the author of A Very Short Introduction to Applied Mathematics. For his contribution to mathematics and sciences, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2022.

The Topic

The natural and artificial world around us is full of active structures that respond to external stimuli and modify their internal structures to achieve specific functions. For instance, to survive plants rely on their ability to sense multiple environmental signals, such as gravity or light, and respond to them by shaping themselves in particular ways. Similarly, during development, neurons sense their environment to grow and interconnect different regions of the brain. Octopus arms and elephant trunks are other magnificent examples of the power and beauty of activated structures that guide soft robotics. In engineering structures, liquid crystal elastomers can be designed to respond to light or heat with enticing possibilities for new actuators and devices.

In this talk, I will discuss a general theory of material activation with a particular focus on slender geometries such as active filaments. In this approach, a unifying mathematical framework is proposed to model how multiple stimuli can be integrated at the microscopic level to produce changes at the macroscopic level. General principles for microstructure organisation and activation can then be obtained. More interestingly, this feedback loop of shape-shifting based on external sources creates complex dynamics akin to natural behaviours and can be used to find elegant solutions to functional problems.

The Alan Tayler Lecture

Alan Tayler was a founding fellow of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and is widely regarded as a pioneer of industrial mathematics. His lifelong commitment was to the promotion of practical application of mathematical ideas to problems arising in science and industry, a vision that provided the inspiration for the instigation and development of many national and international collaborations.

The annual Lecture is held at St. Catherine’s College and is sponsored by the Smith Institute in tribute to the efforts and achievements of Alan Tayler.