Bio-Inspired Design

Natural materials with remarkable functional properties often arise from defined structural motifs at the nano- and microscale. We seek to mimic such functionality by controlling the internal structure of materials using our self-assembly processes. We are currently focusing on the design of self-cleaning, repellent surface coatings and structural color.

Structural Colouration

The natural world is a colorful environment. Stunning displays of coloration have evolved throughout nature to optimize camouflage, warning, and communication. These stunning visual effects and remarkable dynamic properties are often caused by an intricate structural design at the nano- and microscale. We use colloidal self-assembly techniques to create materials and surfaces with defined nanostructural and hierarchical architectures which mimic the optical properties found in nature. We also utilize the optical response of grain crystallization to study the dynamic process of self-assembly in photonic balls. Light microscopes are usually not capable of “seeing” small nano particles, but their collective response to light gives live information about the state and orientation of crystals by their color appearance.

Self-Cleaning Surfaces

The contamination of surfaces is detrimental in a wide range of applications, and can compromise for example the field of vision in cameras or lenses, lead to accumulation of ice on infrastructure, decrease the performance of solar cells, increase drag or allow pathogens to form biofilms. Fortunately, nature has evolved various powerful stratregies for the design of self-cleaning surfaces, which we aim to understand, mimick and translate into technologically useful applications.  One of the key strategies in the Vogel lab is the design of lubricant-infused surfaces inspired by the pitcher plant.  The peristome of the pitcher plant entraps water by a combination of matching surface chemistry and topography, forming a homogeneous liquid layer at its surface. The fluid nature of this interface prevents pinning of a second, contaminated liquid and provides a highly repellent, self-cleaning surface able to repel a wide range of contaminating liquids and complex fluids.