World-class research occurring in Newcastle is showing that the mathematics of nature can foster human progress and help protect the planet.
Using the scientific technique known as biomimicry, the research has highlighted that the study of nature can be used to find solutions to real-world problems.
Through his work with the University of Newcastle, Professor James Murray-Parkes has been overseeing high-performance physics PhD candidates, as they progress in this field.
These scientists are presently studying bromeliads and flower bees to further understand biomimicry.
Biomimicry relates to imitating life to find sustainable solutions to problems. It's innovation inspired by nature.
Given that nature has evolved over 3.8 billion years, it's considered to be the best form of "research and development" around.
"I mentor the kids doing the PhDs. They're all in their mid-to-early 20s. I teach them to apply the math taken from the study of nature to a real life computer," Professor Murray-Parkes said.
Using biomimicry, the professor's team mapped the way bromeliads work and "turned that into an algorithm".
This algorithm was used "for a big supercomputer that we built".
"So we take that algorithm and apply it to a computer, which mimics how the bromeliad works. And of course, it works perfectly. It's always going to work if it works in nature. It can be used for processing data for any industry at all."
Professor Murray-Parkes and his team are among those who establish the mathematics that exist unseen at the foundation of human innovation and production.
Through the application of mathematical, scientific, statistical and engineering principles, the team can provide unique, efficient and sustainable solutions to industry.
Professor Murray-Parkes, an applied physicist, has more than 130 patents.
His inventions have been used across hundreds of products in construction, defence, the automotive industry and energy.
His work involves reverse engineering plants and animals, then applying that knowledge to, for example, the geometry of stadium construction.
He is known for using the mathematics of spider webs to make tall buildings more structurally sound and sustainable.
"The design of Rod Laver Arena involved me biomimicking a gossamer spider," he said.
"My design for Perth Stadium was taken from a daddy long-legs spider. Manhattan West, a cluster of three towers in New York, was also inspired by spider webs."
Professor Murray-Parkes spends a lot of time in forests to devise new mathematical ideas.
"I go to the homes where spiders live. Bromeliads are wonderful because they're tanks," he said.
"You have spiders at the base of the tank, trying to ambush the animals coming out of the tank."
He said bromeliads were "really important".
"They provide environments and food sources for countless animals and insects."
In studying bees, the team analyses and mimics the insects to learn from their "very efficient reproductive and productive systems".
The knowledge gained is then used to help improve industry.
The professor designed the "Oranguhang", which is a "self-climbing building system".
"We measured the nodes inside the joints of the orangutan's hand and created a self-climbing building system from the mathematics we used," he said.
His team helped affect the design of Australia's tallest building using the "Elliptical Energy Pathway Theorem".
The building, known as "Australia 108", was built in Southbank in Melbourne.
The professor created this theorem as "a building philosophy that encourages us to think about the way energy moves through structures".
"That was taken by my reverse engineering of Buddha bamboo from Vietnam. The way it moves in the wind is very different to the way a building moves.
"So I studied it and realised it moved in a series of ellipses at a very slow frequency, which was safe enough for people to inhabit a building if it was moving at that frequency."
Using this theory, he "changed the way we connected the floor plates and columns on buildings to make them move in a series of ellipses".
This was in contrast to the conventional technique of a building "moving like an inverted pendulum, back and forth".
"If it's about geometry, which buildings are, I'm into it," he said.
"We usually collaborate with a structural engineer. They take our concepts, detail them and turn them into designs."
Professor Murray-Parkes was born with a rare condition called savant syndrome.
"I'm openly out and proud as autistic," he quipped.
"A savant is someone who thinks and moves very fast. I don't use a calculator, I do all my math in my brain."
He is renowned for challenging conventional thinking and the status quo.
The nature of the professor's mind has given him a deep understanding of nature itself.
"Everything in the universe is connected," he said.
He sees nature as being like a computer circuit board.
"Every living thing makes up a component of this circuit board," he said.
With a computer, all the components must connect and be conductive or "the computer won't work".
Nature works in much the same way.
"Nature is basically a composition of components that come together and support each other to keep the world going," he said.
Systems software - based on nature - dominates the type of work he does.
"We research, design, build and use software. You can't go and buy software to do what we do. We have to build it," he said.
He has lived in the US, Canada and Melbourne, but moved to Newcastle about two years ago for the lifestyle and to be near friends.
"For me, science is a journey. I hate to pre-empt answers. I just like the answer to come from the quantitative data we produce from our measuring," he said.
Professor Murray-Parkes said physics was "basically the measurement of mass and time".
"How each physicist does that is up to them. I choose to go into nature and measure that," he said.
The professor is due to semi-retire soon to look after his health.
"Being a savant shortens your lifespan because you've got a lot of anxiety and exhaustion," he said.
"Semi-retiring at 52 is important for me, so I can start to slow down, meditate and chill out."
In his book, Problems and Where to Find Them, he wrote that "work causes most of the problems on the planet as we know it".
"People wake and go to work and wreck the planet."
He believes all scientists must be environmentalists to protect the Earth.