Professor Pete Vukusic's research in photonic materials takes inspiration from nature.

Exeter physicist gives prestigious award lecture

Professor Pete Vukusic of the University of Exeter gave a prestigious award lecture at the BA Festival of Science on 9 September.

The physicist was selected to receive the Lord Kelvin Award in recognition of his work in science communication.

He gave his lecture entitled ‘Evolutionary colour: understanding nature's use of light' to an audience of festival-goers at the University of Liverpool.

Professor Pete Vukusic of the University of Exeter’s School of Physics said: “It is a genuine honour and pleasure to have been selected for the Lord Kelvin Award Lecture this year. The BA Award Lectures provide a very special platform for communicating science and scientific advances to the public so I am delighted to have this opportunity to share my team’s passion and enthusiasm for the very exciting research we carry out at the University of Exeter.”

Professor Vukusic is an expert on light manipulation and colour, a subject known as ‘photonics’. His talk focussed on his many discoveries on photonics in nature, including work on the dazzling iridescence in butterfly wings and the uniquely bright white shell of a scarab beetle that’s being used to inspire new paper technology.

Professor Vukusic continued: “Commercial interest in taking scientific inspiration from nature, the practice of biomimetics, has proliferated over the last decade; no more so than in the area of light manipulation by nature’s coloured systems. Some of the structural designs and scientific ideas that have been discovered recently in ours and other groups’ work are inspiring many different technologies and industries; examples feature in fashion fabrics, paints, paper manufacture and even in cosmetics. It is a captivating field of endeavour covering fascinating interdisciplinary science that is accessible at various levels to everyone, regardless of age and experience.”

Professor Vukusic worked as a secondary school science teacher before joining the University of Exeter in 1999 as a post-doctoral researcher in the School of Physics. He has had papers published on his research on photonics in nature in leading scientific journals, including Nature, Science and Proceedings of the Royal Society. He was the Institute of Physics Schools Lecturer in 2007 and was awarded the L’Oreal International Art and Science of Colour Prize in 2005. He also played a lead role in organising the BA Festival of Science in Exeter in 2004.

The BA Award lectures are presented by talented researchers who have scooped prestigious awards for science communication from the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science).

Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the BA said: “The BA Award Lectures are always an extremely popular feature of the Festival programme, appealing to a broad audience.

”They are given by outstanding communicators who bring their subjects to life with great enthusiasm and passion, explaining their current innovative work and its relevance to our everyday lives. The Awards seek to reward their ability to explore and discuss the social aspects of their research with the general public via thoroughly entertaining lectures.”

Several other academics from the University of Exeter are presenting their research at the Festival, including psychologist Dr Lesley Newson, mathematician Dr Mark Holland, Dr Christine Hauskeller of Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society and Professor Tim Frayling of the Peninsula Medical School.

The BA Festival of Science took place in Liverpool from 6-11 September bringing over 350 of the UK’s top scientists to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. In addition to talks and debates at the University of Liverpool, there was a host of events happening throughout the city as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. For more information, visit

This year’s BA Festival of Science was organised in partnership with the University of Liverpool. It is supported by the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills, the Liverpool Culture Company and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.

The 2008 award winners are:

The BA Joseph Lister Award Lecture
Dr Tim Grant, Aston University
‘Txt crimes, sex crimes and murder - the science of Forensic Linguistics’

The BA Lord Kelvin Award Lecture
Dr Pete Vukusic, University of Exeter
‘Evolutionary colour: understanding nature's use of light’

The BA Charles Lyell Award Lecture
Professor Neil Ferguson OBE, Imperial College London
‘”Atishoo, Atishoo, we all fall down”: predicting and controlling epidemics’

The BA Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award Lecture
Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Science Innovation Limited and University College London
‘Climate change: what space can teach us about planet Earth’

The BA Charles Darwin Award Lecture
Dr Hugo Spiers, University College London
‘The "Sat Nav" in our brains’

Date: 9 September 2008