Multiple technologies symbolizing current scientific advances, such as water desalination, high capacity batteries, biointegrated electronics, additive manufacturing, biomorphic robotics, and biodegradable plastics, require materials combining 2-3 essential properties yet structurally versatile. Their synthesis also must be resource conscious. Being inspired by evolution-optimized micro- and nanostructures of many tissues, biomimetic composites are the materials that enable high performance, structural versatility and Earth-friendliness. Furthermore, they can be inverse-designed to exhibit the desirable set of properties.
The structural and functional prototypes of materials from Nature necessitate, however, implementation of self-assembly as the foundational principle of their manufacturing. Layer-by-layer assembly paved the way to a large family of layered nanocomposites made from all classes of inorganic and organic components. Being made now from a wide range of components by a family of related techniques, layered nanocomposites reveal combinations of mechanical, electrical, optical and biological properties that are, at some point, thought-to-be-impossible for classical materials. The reasons behind such high performance, is the utilization of the interfaces between dissimilar components (rather than the bulk properties of the latter) as the design pathway to new properties, which mirrors the principles and sometimes the actual processes of materials synthesis in living cells. Ubiquitous self-assembly methods at nanoscale enable technological implementation of materials with high density of interfaces.
One example of conceptual biological material reproduced by many scientists is nacre known for high toughness and iridescence. Layered nacre-like nanocomposites made from a variety of components now surpass the mechanical and optical properties of the natural prototype. In the last decade, biomimetic composites structurally reminiscent of enamel, bone, wood, cartilage, kidney membranes, eye retina, and skin have been made. A new type of nanoscale “building blocks’ being used in biomimetic composites are cellulose and aramid nanofibers capable of replicating mechanical and transport properties of soft tissues.
In the ongoing projects, we address the following questions:
How to utilize advances in computational technologies and applied mathematics, for example Graph Theory, for the design of biomimetic composites?
What is the role of chirality in high-performance nanocomposites from Nature?
How to utilize recyclable plastics in the production of multifunctional hierarchical materials?
Cartilage-like nanocomposites for water-purification membranes, charge-storing hierarchical materials for biomorphic robots, and chiral nanocomposites for machine vision are among the current applications of biomimetic composites this group is working on.