Naomi Nakayama

2023 Polymaths Award Winner

Dr. Naomi Nakayama is a Reader (Associate Professor) in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London. She directs the Biological Form and Function Lab, where an interdisciplinary and international team of researchers study the How and Why of plant design. Plants make highly specialized structures to sense and respond to the environment, such as optical cues, airborne chemicals, and moisture levels. For example, the common dandelion makes a parachute-like bundle of hairs above its seed to enhance air drag, which closes when wet. This morphing enables the seed to fly away preferentially in strong wind, aiding long-distance dispersal. Originally trained as a botanist and developmental biologist, Dr. Nakayama expanded her scientific field as intriguing questions arose – to biomechanics, evolutionary biology and ecology, and synthetic biology. She aims to understand the evolutionary forces acting on biological design, to predict future forms of life through the changing climate. Visit the Biological Form and Function Lab website for more information on their work.

Planned Polymaths Work: Dr. Nakayama will explore synthetic biological engineering of plant growth and development in regenerative cultures, with the scope of kickstarting cellular agriculture of plant-based products.