Uruguay Lectures – Chinese Congress, Aachen, UK, Aachen, King’s College, Aachen. Part 1

I checked my Blog online a few days ago and saw that I hadn’t posted anything since early November. At that time things went ballistically crazy as the various teaching assessments, marking and other things all happened at once, added to that a bunch of assessments were due for the data science course I’m taking, and I was preparing to present at an International Silk Conference, and was soon to travel to Aachen, Germany. Well, anyway, I’m now (its January 23 as I write) finally on the other side of all of that chaos and confronting a whole new set of chaos.  I’m currently in Aachen and it’s the last night of my European trip. I think I can now take a bit of time out (as I’m travelling back to Sydney over almost a day and a half tomorrow and the next day) to post a little something. Let me therefore talk a bit about the significant events that have occurred for the Spider Silk Research Lab and our collaborators since the last post in November. I’ll begin before my trip even commenced, on the weekend of December 10-11 to be exact, when I attended the 10th China International Silk Conference, albeit from the luxury of my lab at UNSW in Sydney.

December 10-11, 10th China International Silk Conference (ISC 2022)

There’s a bit of history to this conference. Way back in early 2020 my friend and collaborator from Deakin University, Jian Fang, emailed me out of the blue and told me he has taken a position at Soochow University in China, and they were hosting a silk conference at the end of the year and he’d like to schedule me to attend as a Keynote Speaker. I agreed as I was very keen to visit him and to keep working with him again, if possible. I expressed concern about reports of a rapidly spreading virus in China. He assured me that it was confined to Wuhan and I shouldn’t worry. Anyway, as we now know it became a global pandemic and that conference was cancelled until 2021, and then subsequently cancelled again until 2022, when it was ultimately held online because travelling to China was still not possible This was fine with me as I wouldn’t have been able to make the trip given it was right before I headed for Germany and I was without a funding source anyway.

Anyway, the conference went ahead on December 10-11 2023. I (due to other commitments) only attended the first day, December 10, however.

The morning session (9am-12pm Jiangsu time) was extremely interesting. It kicked off with a great talk by Professor David Kaplan from Tufts University. He covered his labs latest set of amazing research on silk applications, including as protein wraps for cells, as alternative fibres (to thermoplastics) in textiles, and as bio-activated functional materials.

Then another former collaborator of mine from Deakin University, Professor Xungai Wang, now at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, spoke. He promoted a few books about the Material Design, the Silk Road, and Industries of the Future (I need to see if he can start promoting “Silk: Explaoring Nature’s Superfibre” at future conferences?) and some documentaries to set the scene that the nature of material and fibre manufacturing is about to change and it should be embraced as these change will be positive for research and society (I indeed concur with these ideas and promote them in ‘Exploring Nature’s Superfibres and in social media through Spider & Silk Supply). This led not some cutting edge research on silk technology that he’s currently working on.

The third speaker, and last one I watch from this session (the remaining speakers looked terrific and I really did want to catch them, especially Professor Keqin Zhang’s but had another engagement), was Professor Kenjiro Yazawa from Shinshu University in Japan who talked about processes his lab were creating to convert silk wastage into high performing fibres, with some descriptions of technological applications, such as using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to enhance the size of the genomes that they can work with. It was also really interesting and well presented.

The 13:00 to 15:00 session had excellent speakers. I couldn’t watch all of the talks unfortunately. A highlight for me was Professor Quan Wang’s (Zhejiang University) talk about tuning the properties of regenerated fibres by adjusting the strain applied during spinning. This was intriguing as it’s a line of research that has interested the Spider Silk Research Lab for some time. In fact, an honours student at UNSW attempted to do something similar in 2020 (that particular project was unfortunately badly interfered with by the pandemic).

I was scheduled to kick off the afternoon session at 3pm. However a technical issue needed sorting out so I held out and went second. It was fine as I got to listen to a great talk on silks for drug delivery before commencing. I went over the latest from the spider silk research lab, covering the background that I have before on how our pure research on natural spider silks drives applied and engineering questions before discussing specific projects like the silk silkmoth comparative study and the cribellate silks study with RWTH Aachen University. I wanted to cover these as they show that it is essential to use a multitude of techniques to really get at what is determining property change at the nanoscale- tensile testing, AFM, NMR, nanoindentation, tomography and computer modelling, giving examples in the case of our moth silks and spider cribellate silk work. I more or less repeated this talk when I presented to RWTH Aachen and King’s College London in January, and I’ll go into more detail about the talk when I blog on those presentations.

The day closed out with some more great presentations on applying silks in various spun and hybridized forms to industrial problems. To round it out really nice Jian later sent me through a certificate of participation. I was very honoured. In the end it was a great event with interesting talks from quality research around the world. It looked at one point like it wouldn’t happen at all. Great work Jian and the organizing team for pulling it together.

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