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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). HPC displays a vibrant structural colouration and iridescence in water. It’s observed colour, which has a shiny 'metallic' sheen, is due to the inherent nanostructure of a material and not the result of any dyes or pigments; so-called structural colouration.

Interestingly, HPCs nanostructure can be altered dynamically post-formulation in predictable ways by controlling it's environment. This means HPC could be used as a low cost, bio-degradable sensor. For example, by applying a pressure, changing the temperature, or adding/removing solvent, the colour of the HPC material changes in real time. Control over a materials colour with pressure is termed mechanochromism, which is a relatively rare phenomenon and is the principal focus of Charlie's PhD.

HPCs biodegradability, extensive industrial use and cellulosic nature make it an interesting material for development, possibly even competing with petrol-chemical materials, applications and products. However, HPCs photonic sensing capabilities have only been studied for scientific interest, not for practical application. More applied photonic HPC papers are required.

Through collaboration with the Bio-inspired Photonics group of Professor Silvia Vignolini, and Nanomanufacturing group of Professor Michael De Volder, Charlie is working 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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