Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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AEM spotlight:

Richard James delivers Penrose lecture


Richard James is the department's Russell J. Penrose Professor

AEM Professor Richard James recently delivered the Penrose Lecture at the McNamara Alumni Center. James is a Russell J. Penrose Professor, a chair in AEM endowed by Russell Penrose.

James discussed what he calls “objective structures,” structures like carbon nanotubes, buckyballs and viral capsids that occur frequently in organic and inorganic materials. James has given a precise definition of these structures and has developed a methodology to compute all of them. This could lead to the discovery of new nanostructures with unusual collective properties.

“When you look at the calculations of the properties of these structures, you see these are the natural structures where you should find magnetic, ferroelectric and other collective properties,” he said.

In addition to the possibility of these interesting properties, objective structures also are unusually prevalent as the building blocks of viruses.

“That’s probably related to the fact that viruses do not have their own source of energy,” James said. “Therefore, they rely mostly on the process of ‘self-assembly’ to construct themselves.  I think objective structures provide a kind of framework for the merging of materials science and biology.”

Mr. Penrose established the Russell J. Penrose Professorship in Aerospace Engineering in the 1980s; Prof. Daniel Joseph was its first recipient. Penrose, a philanthropist and University alumnus, also created an undergraduate scholarship and supported the 2000 construction of the Mechanical Engineering building.

The Penrose Lecture comes on the coattails of James’ return stateside from a one-year sabbatical. After being awarded the prestigious Humboldt Senior Research Fellowship by the German government, James worked at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig, and traveled within Europe and beyond, including a 50km cross-country ski in the mountains on the border between the Czech Republic and Poland on Easter Day.

Later, James traveled to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China, to visit his former postdoctoral fellow, Jian Li, who is now Chair of the Department of Materials Science at Huazhong University of Science and Technology.  Professor Li directs several important new programs in fuel cell technology in China. 

“You can feel a tremendous energy in China, but also very significant growing pains,” he said. “From both an academic and societal perspective, I think it is desirable to forge stronger links between American and Chinese universities. The resources that are now going into science and technology in China are, like the Three Gorges Dam I visited, truly impressive.”

Click here to view the Penrose lecture (Flash required, broadband recommended).
For more information on Prof. Richard James, visit his home page.


Last Modified: Wednesday, 22-Aug-2012 13:00:44 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation