Graduate Research Spotlight: Bill Hsiung
My interests in science stemmed from a little boy’s fascination with dinosaurs. The novels “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World” by Michael Crichton further drove me to study molecular biology and genetic engineering, and once had me believe that we could solve most human problems (i.e. cure diseases) through the power of biotechnology. However, a personal setback related to a health issue had me second doubt that idea. During that same period of time, I learned about Biomimicry through Janine Benyus’s TEDTalks, and it opened up my eyes. I entered the Integrated Bioscience Ph.D. program at The University of Akron because it is the first and only program around the world that offers a track to advanced biomimicry study and research at the Ph.D. level. Sponsored by the Sherwin-Williams company, and co-advised by Dr. Blackledge (spiders) and Dr. Shawkey (avian colors), the goal of my doctoral research was to solve human problems by advancing fundamental research through biomimicry. Hence, I focused on studying how colors are produced in spiders along with their potential technical applications.
At the end of my Ph.D. studies, not only did I demonstrate that spiders have rich color-production palettes that are comparable to birds and butterflies, but I also found two types of pigments that were not previously described in spiders. More importantly, two color technologies with great potential were developed by studying blue tarantulas and rainbow peacock spiders accordingly. First, a new type of colorant that is more vibrant, durable, versatile, and eco-friendly than conventional pigments and dyes was designed based on the understanding of the optical principles and the flower-like structure of the blue tarantula hairs. Second, a high-performance, light-dispersive component was inspired by the super-iridescent abdominal scales with surface nano-diffraction grating and airfoil-shaped 3D micro-curvature found on male Australian Rainbow Peacock Spiders. This novel light-dispersive component could decrease the size of many light-based instruments by an order of magnitude and further drive the miniaturization of the technology.
I am currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego working at a DARPA funded project which expands my Ph.D. expertise about colors and light (electromagnetic waves) to study if radiofrequencies are used as an effective modality of communication between biological entities other than humans. I am aspired to continue conducting interdisciplinary biomimetic research, pushing the boundaries, and connecting dots in creative ways in the future.