In my latest episode of Innovation Storytellers Show, I welcome Dr. Scott Walper, Science Director for Synthetic Biology at the US Office of Naval Research Global. The conversation took an exciting turn into the world of engineered living materials, a realm where the boundaries between the living and the inanimate blur into a new reality of possibilities.

Dr. Walper’s enthusiasm was palpable as he spoke about his favorite subject, engineered living materials. He shared how this field transforms what we once viewed as dead materials—like walls and clothes—into living, multifunctional systems. This isn’t just theoretical; it’s a reality in synthetic biology today, with remarkable advancements in the past decade. 

An interesting point Dr. Walper made was about the art of science communication. He believes that as a scientist, one must also be a persuasive storyteller, almost like a ‘used car salesman.’ This means recognizing the audience’s needs and selling the idea, even if it’s as complex as a scientific concept. It’s crucial to make science accessible and relatable. This approach is particularly vital when introducing innovative ideas that might seem like science fiction. By creating a narrative and showing how these ideas can fill gaps or solve problems, even in the future, scientists can lay a foundation for acceptance and understanding of their work.

Dr. Walper also discussed the challenge of explaining complex technologies like AI, which often go into a ‘black box’ that’s hard for the average person to understand. He stressed the importance of not dumbing down science but making it accessible and exciting without losing its essence. According to him, the key is to frame scientific innovations in terms of their impact on improving lives. This approach makes the science more relatable and encourages trust and investment in these ideas.

Our conversation delves into the fascinating intersection of science and storytelling and how the latter is essential for the progression of the former. By focusing on how innovations can positively impact people’s lives, scientists and innovators can craft narratives that resonate with a wider audience, fostering greater understanding and support for their work. This episode is a testament to the power of storytelling in science and technology and its role in shaping a future where these fields are more integrated into our daily lives.

Name:  Dr. Scott Walper
Title: Science Director for Synthetic Biology

Company: US Office of Naval Research Global 

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Dr. Scott Walper is the Science Director for Synthetic Biology for the US Office of Naval Research Global where he works to support innovative foundational science and technology around the world. Dr. Walper obtained his PhD from The University of Southern Mississippi in Chemistry in 2010 and joined NRL as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in the same year.

As a federal scientist he has led or contributed to a number of research programs in synthetic biology including engineering bacteria for bioremediation, biomaterials for flexible electronics, and designing a microbial sentinel for pathogen detection. In addition to these, Dr. Walper maintains research programs exploiting cell-free systems for building in vitro enzymatic cascades for biosynthesis of chemical precursors.