Quo vadis biophotonics? Wearing serendipity and slow science as a badge of pride, and embracing biology
This article is a reflection on the themes of the Faraday Discussion meeting on ‘Biological and bio-inspired optics’ held from 20 to 22 July 2020. It is a personal perspective on the nature of this field as a broad and interdisciplinary field that has led to a sound understanding of the material properties of biological nanostructured and optical materials. The article describes how the nature of the field and the themes of the conference are reflected in particular in work on the 3D bicontinuous biophotonic nanostructures known as single gyroids and in bicontinuous structures more broadly. Such single gyroid materials are found for example in the butterfly Thecla opisena, where the questions of biophotonic response, of bio-inspired optics, of the relationship between structure and function, and of the relationship between natural and synthetic realisations are closely interlinked. This multitude of facets of research on single gyroid structures reflects the beauty of the broader field of biophotonics, namely as a field that lives through embracing the serendipitous discovery of the biophotonic marvels that nature offers to us as seeds for in-depth analysis and understanding. The meandering nature of its discoveries, and the need to accept the slowness that comes from exploration of intellectually new or foreign territory, mean that the field shares some traits with biological evolution itself. Looking into the future, I consider that a closer engagement with living tissue and with the biological questions of function and formation, rather than with the materials science of biological materials, will help ensure the continuing great success of this field.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Biological and bio-inspired optics