News / Ottawa

University of Ottawa professor Andrew Pelling getting international acclaim

Pelling's star continues to rise with senior TED fellowship.

More and more of the world has their eyes on Andrew Pelling, physics professor at the University of Ottawa who was recently named a TED2017 Senior Fellow - one of 10 visionaries worldwide to receive the fellowship.

Adam Kveton / For Metro

More and more of the world has their eyes on Andrew Pelling, physics professor at the University of Ottawa who was recently named a TED2017 Senior Fellow - one of 10 visionaries worldwide to receive the fellowship.

“It’s still strange to be getting all this attention,” says Andrew Pelling, physics professor at the University of Ottawa.

But then, when the world finds out you and your students have been “bio-hacking” apple slices and growing human cells inside of them, you’re bound to turn a few heads.

His latest accolade is in being named a TED2017 Senior Fellow – one of 10 visionaries chosen from candidates around the world.

Pelling and the Pelling Laboratory for Physical Manipulation gained some notoriety last year by carving apple slices to look like ears, removing apple’s cells and then growing human cells in the remaining cellulose scaffolding.

The innovation came after realizing the cells of one animal could be grown inside the protein scaffolding of another. Pelling and his students wondered if plants would work as the scaffold too.

Turns out they can, it works really well, it’s cheap, and the process has some very strong real-world applications.

No one is more surprised by that last revelation than Pelling.

“We never intend to do useful things,” said Pelling with a laugh. At his lab, the goal is to let students try things, answer questions they have and engage in science where curiosity rules and there is no specific applied outcome.

Pelling is promoting this approach to science with his newfound notoriety, saying that science currently is driven too much by trying to achieve a useful end result.

But, now that the apple ears are turning out to have some very strong medical applications, all Pelling can say is, “Oops.”

Announcements surrounding that medical application will be coming this year, he said, adding that the positive response of the Ottawa community, the TED community and following plain-old curiosity has helped their work become useful.

As for future projects, Pelling said he wants to take a stab at doing what the machines did in The Matrix and try to use live tissue to power machines. It would be a step towards a more symbiotic relationship between carbon and silicon, he said.

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