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Inaugural lecture Prof W.R. Browne: Rainbows teaching us of diversity in our (molecular) world

When:Tu 19-11-2019 16:15 - 17:00
Where:Aula Academy Building, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

In the macroscopic world we can observe our surroundings using the five senses, touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. Which of these do you consider the most important? Could you imagine living in a world without any of them even? There are many that have no choice in this, but on my short cycle to and from work every day it is clear that there are many that choose to use the minimum necessary to observe their surroundings, e.g. without sight (aap-ing) and/or sound (headphones). They seem to get on ok without use of these senses, since of course there is always the sense of touching a lamppost or tasting a pavement.

It is natural I guess that no matter what capabilities are at our disposal, we tend to focus on using the minimum necessary to do a job, which, if it works most of the time, is fine. Good enough. Indeed, the best. In my world, the molecular world, our goal is to seek to understand every increasing complexity and the mechanisms by which molecular systems work, be they industrial catalysis or enzymatic systems, and to understand, we must observe them as they work. Our molecular senses move far beyond those we use in the macroscopic world, beyond the colours of the rainbow and the vibrations of air that transmit sound. Nature gifts us with the entire electromagnetic spectrum and a diversity of interactions with matter to sense the world around us. But, as in the macroscopic world, we tend to limit our attention to only one or two of the best of our molecular ‘senses’. It is only natural to do this – the best tool or person for the job should always be chosen, no?

Diversity continues to be, often, a contentious point in many aspects of the modern world but its importance to science cannot be overstated. I argue that diversity is not something that we have to achieve, a goal, but is at every level essential to scientific progress and hence should be integral to how we teach, learn and carry out research. The question of course is how we do this and I will state my view on how this can be achieved.

More information

  • Inaugural lecture: Prof W.R. Browne
  • Title: Rainbows teaching us of diversity in our (molecular) world
  • Chair: Functional Molecular Materials and Catalytic Systems
  • Faculty: Science and Engineering
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