SmithGroup JJR Lecture Series

The SmithGroup JJR, formerly Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls Associates, of Detroit is the architectural firm that designed the Beckman Institute. The firm was particularly proud of this project and presented a modest endowment to support a lecture series in their name. The gift was given in honor of the founding director of the Institute, Theodore L. Brown. Dr. James D. Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA and recipient of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, presented the inaugural lecture in the series.

2017 SmithGroup JJR Lecture

Photo of L. Mahadevan

Shape: mathematics, physics, biology and engineering

L. Mahadevan, England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, professor of physics, Harvard University
Noon Friday, April 21, 2017
Beckman Auditorium


Mathematically, the shape of an object is defined as what is left over after scale, translation, and rotation are eliminated. How can we describe, predict, design, and perceive shape? Using the vast diversity of biological shapes as motivation, I will start with some thoughts on morphometrics - the mathematics of shape comparison. I will then show how physical theories and experiments can build on geometrical descriptions to provide a predictive theory of shape in such contexts as vertebrate guts and brains. Understanding these allows us to ask how we might solve the inverse problem of engineering shape, a question that I will answer in the context of origami. Finally, if there is time, I will describe some new mathematical approaches to how we perceive shape, probabilistically.

Previous SmithGroup JJR Lectures

Michael Posner - April 2016
professor emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon

Chad Mirkin - October 2014
George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry and Director, International Institute for Nanotechnology, Northwestern University

Victor Regnier - April 2013
Professor of architecture and gerontology at the University of Southern California

Jeff Hawkins – November 2010
Founder, Numenta, Inc.

Felice Frankel – September 2008
Senior Research Fellows, Harvard

Helen Neville – October 2007
Psychology/Neuroscience, Oregon

James Carey – April 2006
Entomology, Cal – Davis

Douglas Noll – October 2003
Biomedical Engineering, Michigan

Lawrence Rabiner – October 2001
Vice President AT&T Labs

George Whitesides – March 1999
Chemistry, Harvard

Norman Allinger – March 1995
Chemistry, Georgia

James Watson – October 1992 (inaugural speaker)
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

SmithGroup JJR Lecture Series is supported by: