On March 30th I visited Nature Mother of Invention, which part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2016, takes visitors on a journey through the history of the tropical plant family Sapotaceae.
Sapotaceae belong to the order Ericales and comprise around 800 species of evergreen trees and shrubs distributed in pantropical regions. The exhibition illustrates how the plant family has contributed to a wide-variety of inventions that have shaped the modern-day world.
In particular, gutta-percha – “the latex from the tropical tree Palaquium gutta and its close relatives”, became integral to the Victorian Age. Introduced to the West by Scotsman Dr. William Montgomerie, the substance, which is hard at room temperatures, becomes pliable when heated, retaining any shape upon cooling.
Amongst other applications, acid and water resistant gutta-percha was used to make the Victorian equivalent of the intercom – speaking tubes. More significantly still, in 1847 Dr. Ernst Werner von Siemens used gutta-percha for the insulation of underground telegraph cables.
By 1858 this application had enabled the development of undersea cabling between Ireland and North America, making gutta-percha integral to the development of the infrastructure that, in this day and age, supports the World Wide Web.
Many more past and present uses of derivatives of the Sapotaceae family are explored in this wonderfully curated exhibition, which is also endowed with activities for all ages to enjoy.
Running until July 24th 2016 Nature Mother of Invention is well worth a visit.
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Melissa Sterry, PhD, design scientist, systems theorist, futurologist, and serial founder inc. Bionic City®.
Asking the question "how would nature design a city" since 2010.
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