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Sustainable routes for Smart photonic Materials

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SeSaMe (Sustainable routes for Smart photonic Materials)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2018-10-01 al 2020-03-31

The aim of the project is to fabricate and optically characterize bio-mimetic photonic structures using the same material as nature. This approach allows to answer fundamental questions about the biological significance of photonic structures in nature and their formation, but also provides a sustainable and renewable route for optical device fabrication.

Hierarchical natural architectures producing bright colorations have been studied extensively in the lasts decades mainly because of their fascinating optical response and their biological relevance. However, the mechanisms regulating the interaction of materials underpinning the formation of such structures are still not known. Within this project we try to problem and to understand the development and fabrication of such structures in nature by studying their chemical composition and the physical interactions between the materials which compose them. In parallel, harnessing this knowledge, we exploit the same natural materials (such as cellulose as chitin) to fabricate bio-inspired and bio-mimetic structures for application as pigments, sensors and devices in everyday life.

This research is extremely relevant for important for society. We desperately need more sustainable products, which are not harmful for the environment and for our society. Nature designed and optimised these materials for specific functions, if we learn these functions and the process to fabricate them, we can exploit this natural resources for a truly sustainable technology. Finding new ways to exploit natural resources (like cellulose and chitin) to produce functional materials is fundamental for the materials manufacturing of the future. Natural biopolymers are abundant in our planet and they can be extracted form waist.
I started my ERC gratn in 2015, and within this period I established an internationally recognized, highly interdisciplinary research line which has contributed enormously to understanding how biopolymers self-assemble into complex photonic architectures in nature and how to exploit such natural design principles to fabricate novel optical materials in a sustainable way. My work is unique in the field of bio-mimetics and nano-photonics. I use optics to understand the assembly of naturally occurring photonic structures, and, being inspired by nature, I use biopolymers to fabricate novel sustainable materials. To date, I have published several papers (see publications) in prestigious journals like Nature, PNAS, Advanced Materials, Nature Photonics and Nature Communications. I was awarded prestigious fellowship and awards in 2018 the RSC Gibson-Fawcett Award, the ACS KINGFA Young Investigator Award, the ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Lectureship Awards, and the 2018 Steven Vogel Young Investigator Award, The Leverhulme prize and the Early Career Kavli MRS Lectureship in 2019.. Within the PhD students, 3 of them are funded by EPSRC DCTs, 3 by ERC grants and 2 by an ITN. One PhD student is funded by a BBSRC-iCase and one more by an individual fellowship. I am committed to providing excellence in post-graduate education and training, and this is reflected by the number of researchers that have joined the group

Summary and Conclusions of Recent Research

Natural disordered Photonics for engineering visual appearance design.
My original approach to bio-mimetics allows me not only to take inspiration from nature to design novel materials but also to reverse-engineer the biological significance of natural architectures: one example is my work published in Nature [E. Moyroud et al. (2017) Nature, 550, 469], in which I describe how disorder in photonic structures found in flowers can lead to angular-independent reflection and showcase its biological significance for plant-insect pollination. Similarly, my work on the genetic manipulation of structural colour in bacterial colonies published in PNAS [VE Johansen et al. (2018) PNAS, 115, 2652] allowed me to directly control the colour and visual appearance of bacterial colonies by genetically modifying the bacteria motility. These results, funded by ERC-StG unlocked the possibility to produce living paints and to underpin the genotype-phenotype relationship of structural colour in a living organism for the first time. Similarly, my understating of the design principle of the highly scattering properties of the white beetle Chyphochilus [M. Burresi et al. (2014) Sci Rep 4, 7271; L. Cortese et al , (2015) Adv. Opt. Mater. 3, 1337; G. Iacucci et al. (2018) J Roy Soc Interface Focus 9,] catalysed the development of highly-scattering networks in my and others groups [J Syurik et al. (2018) Adv. Func. Mat. 28, 1706901; MS Toivonen et al. (2018) Adv Mat. 30, 1704050].

Engineering optical appearance with natural materials.

I established my role as a pioneer in using cellulose as a novel photonic material internationally. My work on cellulose self-assembly in microfluidic droplets [RM Parker et al. (2016) ACS Nano 10, 8443] in 2016 brought me at the forefront of this field. Similarly, I implement novel assembly techniques to make cellulose coloured films (that are usually brittles) extremely flexible [G. Guidetti et al. (2016) Adv Mat 28, 10042]. I demonstrated that it is possible to control the optical response of cellulose-based photonic films with low magnetic fields [B. Frka-Petesic et al. (2017) Adv Mat 29, 1701469], re-setting the accepted view in the field for the need of very high magnetic fields to control the alignment of cellulose nanocrystals films. The bottom-up approaches that I developed within my ERC project allowed the production of cellulose-based strain sensors [G Kamita et al. (2016) Adv Opt Mat 4, 1950] that are suitable for scale-up. An example of such large photonic sensors has been recently demonstrated [H-L Liang et al. (2018) Nat Com 9, 4632] on R2R manufacturing.
We manage to fabricate cellulose-only coloured particles which can be used a bio-compatible and edible pigments. The work has been patented (see Patents IPR section) and we are in contact with companies to use these materials in future products. I used the Common Exploitation Booster to develop a strategy which allows me to broaden the impact of our findings.
The possibility to scale up production of these materials is disruptive, as they have the potential to replace toxic colourants and additives with natural-based components. We successfully secured a PoG grant to scale up and now are setting up 2 spin-off companies. Several of these are now subject of collaboration with companies (such as L’Oreal who is sponsoring a PostDoc in my group).