2017 Fall Wulff Lecture


Fantastic Feather: Form and Function

When we think of birds, we think of feathers. Feathers give birds their color, from the bright red of a male Cardinal to the iridescent reds and greens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Feathers keep birds warm and dry: down provides excellent insulation against heat loss and water really does roll off a duck’s back. Feathers form the aerodynamic shape of the wing, enabling flight. A Barn Owl’s flight feathers suppress sound, allowing it to fly nearly silently, while its ruff feathers reflect and focus sound into its ears, enabling the owl to hunt in total darkness by sound alone. This talk describes how the microscopic structure of feathers gives rise to their remarkable properties.

The Wulff Lecture is an introductory, general ­audience, entertaining lecture that aims to ­educate, inspire, and encourage MIT under­graduates to take up study of materials science and engineering and related fields. The entire MIT community, particularly freshmen, is invited to ­attend. The Wulff Lecture honors the late Professor John Wulff, a skilled, provocative, and ­entertaining teacher who conceived of a new ­approach to teaching general chemistry and ­inaugurated the popular freshman subject, 3.091 Introduction to Solid State Chemistry. 


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