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Smart Cellulose Photonic Materials

A collaboration between the Nanomanufacturing group (IfM) and Bio-inspired Photonics group (Melville Lab) sees Charlie working towards the production and application of biocompatible photonic materials.


Charlie Barty-King


Dr Michael De Volder

Project overview

Charlie’s project focusses on a cellulose-derived material (hydroxypropyl cellulose, HPC) that displays a vibrant structural colouration and iridescence in water. It’s observed shiny-metallic colour is due to the inherent nanostructure of a material, not the result of any dyes or pigments, and is therefore produced structurally; structural colouration. Interestingly, HPCs nanostructure can be altered post-formulation in predictable ways through the altering of its immediate environment. A colour that is dynamic to its surroundings is therefore observed.

For example, by applying a pressure, changing the temperature, or adding/removing solvent, the colour of the final material changes in real time. Specifically, the control of a materials colour using pressure is termed mechanochromism, is a relatively rare phenomenon, and is the principal focus of his PhD.

The biodegradability of HPC, combined with its extensive industrial use and cellulosic nature, make it an interesting material for development to compete with petrol-chemical products, applications and materials. However, its photonic properties of dynamic structural colouration have only been studied for scientific interest, not for practical application, with the hope to change this through more applied publications.

Through collaboration with the Bio-inspired Photonics group of Professor Silvia Vignolini, and Nanomanufacturing group of Professor Michael De Volder, Charlie is looking to prove the efficacy of photonic hydroxypropyl cellulose outside of the lab environment, with scalable manufacturability at the heart of all produced work. For more info, see Charlie's profile page.


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