Research Program

The research groups are tackling research questions at the interface of chemistry, soft-matter physics, optics, and biology. Our studies focus on how natural materials are assembled into complex architectures within living organism and how these architectures define their response. We believe that, by understanding the design principles found in nature, it is possible to fabricate a novel class of truly sustainable functional materials using only natural resources and ambient conditions.

Our main research interests are the following:

Bio-Inspired Photonics
Prof Silvia Vignolini

Prof Vignolini is interested in understanding of how the most brilliant colourations are obtained in nature. As an example, for plants and insects, skeletal support molecules such as cellulose and chitin are assembled in nano-fibrils organised into chiral multilayer structures that are called helicoids. While these structures have been observed and reported in many species, the way in which these structures are naturally formed in plants and animals is not understood and remains an important problem in developmental biology.

Bioproducts Engineering
Dr. Camila Honorato

Dr. Camila Honorato and her group aim to develop sustainable green chemical processes for manufacturing advanced and bio-inspired materials. The Bioproducts Engineering group investigates the interaction of the different building blocks found in biological sources using a bottom-up approach. This knowledge will pave the way to develop green technologies in more sustainable ways, not only focusing on cellulose, but also on other major components such as lignin and hemicelluloses for their application in advanced functional materials.

Multifunctional Bio-Composites
Dr. Daniel Dax

Dr. Daniel Dax and his Multifunctional Bio-Composites group, are aiming to develop novel mycelium-based materials. Some filamentous fungi can thrive on biomass such as wood, straw and other lignocellulosic materials. During the mycelia growth, the cellulose and lignin polymeric components of the plant cell wall are degraded and function as the energy source for the fungal organism. While growing through the biomass, the mycelium forms a dense network and glues the biomass particles together. By understanding how different fungal strains are degrading the biomass, we can tune the final properties of mycelium composites, obtaining composites with desired properties such as high mechanical properties or low density.

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