Anna Wang | Soap to Cells and the Origins of Life
By always asking "why" and "how", researchers in fundamental science find new, creative ways to solve problems that help other parts of science in unexpected ways.
The age-old question, “how did life begin” has plagued scientists for generations. For geologists the answers lie in rocks, for biologists it’s our evolutionary process, while for astrophysicists it’s in the stars but for physical chemists the keys to unlocking the mystery lies in determining how simple chemicals could have assembled into something resembling a cell, 4 billion years ago. And unfortunately, because physical chemists can’t just hop in a time machine and set the coordinates for the time when our Earth was a hostile planet covered in volcanoes, they need to examine the next best things – really really old meteorites. Meteorites give us clues as to the types of materials that could have been brought to our young uninhabitable Earth from elsewhere in the universe, and what could be made on Earth in the absence of biology.
In just 10 minutes, or roughly the time it takes for a meteorite to burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, Anna Wang will endeavour to answer the question of how life began using some of the oldest cells we have on the planet.
ABOUT 10 MINUTE GENIUS
In this sprawling digital age where a universe of information is accessible within seconds, it's easy to be paralysed by the simple question of where to begin.
Introducing: Ten Minute Genius, a series of short talks designed to create a space in which you can engage with new ideas. We have curated a collection of material scientists, philosophers and maths lovers to help you make some sense of this chaotic information vortex. And because you’re busy, all we ask of you is just ten minutes.
Anna Wang is a Scientia Senior Lecturer and ARC DECRA Fellow in the Faculty of Science at UNSW Sydney. There she leads research within the School of Chemistry, at the intersection of physics, chemistry and materials science, to answer questions about soft matter and how they shed light on the origins of life. By studying soft matter, Anna provides insights into the science of the everyday, from personal care products in the bathroom to the microfoams in our cappuccino, but this research also sheds light on basic science like the principles behind self-assembly and how cell-based life started on Earth. She completed a postdoc at Massachusetts General Hospital as a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow in Astrobiology, and a PhD in Applied Physics at Harvard University.