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Dr Silvia Vignolini

Portrait of sv319

Photonic structures in Nature and Bio-mimetic Materials

Research Interests

Photonic structures in nature

Colour in nature is everywhere: animals and plants develop structures on sub-micrometer scale to manipulate light and to obtain brilliant and iridescent colours. This kind of colouration, named structural since it is not obtained using pigmentation, results from various mechanisms, including multilayered materials, crystalline inclusions and surface diffraction gratings. Pollia condensata fruits are one of the most striking examples of  strong iridescent colouration in plants. The colour is caused by Bragg-reflection of helicoidally stacked cellulose microfibrils, which form multilayers in the cell walls of the epicarp. The bright blue colour of this fruit is more intense than that of many previously described biological materials. Uniquely in nature, the reflected colour differs from cell to cell, as the layer thicknesses in the multilayer stack vary, giving the fruit a striking pixelated or ’pointillist’ appearance.

PNAS 109, 15712–15715, (2012)

Another striking example is the white of the Cyphochilus beetle which is native to South-East Asia, is whiter than paper, thanks to ultra-thin scales which cover its body. A new investigation of the optical properties of these scales has shown that they are able to scatter light more efficiently than any other biological tissue known, which is how they are able to achieve such a bright whiteness.

Scientific Reports 4, 6075 doi:10.1038/srep06075 (2014)


  1. BBSRC David Phillips fellowship
  2. Next Generation fellowship
  3. Isaac Newton Trust

Selected Publications

[1] Pointillist structural colour in Pollia fruit

S. Vignolini, P. J. Rudall, A. V. Rowland, A. Reed, E. Moyroud, R. B. Faden, J. J. Baumberg, B. J. Glover, U. Steiner; PNAS 109, 15712–15715, (2012). 

[2] Controlled bio-inspired self-assembly of cellulose-based chiral reflectors 

A. G. Dumanli, G. Kamita, J. Landman, H. van der Kooij, B. J. Glover, J. J. Baumberg, U Steiner, S. Vignolini;  Adv. Opt. Mat. DOI: 10.1002/adom.201400112  (2014)

[3]Bright-White Beetle scales Optimise Multiple Scattering of Light

M. Burresi, L. Cortese, L. Pattelli, M. Kolle, P.Vukusic, D. Wiersma, U. Steiner, and S.Vignolini; Scientific Reports 4, 6075 doi:10.1038/srep06075 (2014)



Hierarchical Self-Assembly of Cellulose Nanocrystals in a Confined Geometry.
RM Parker, B Frka-Petesic, G Guidetti, G Kamita, G Consani, C Abell, S Vignolini
– ACS Nano
Biocompatible and Sustainable Optical Strain Sensors for Large-Area Applications
G Kamita, B Frka-Petesic, A Allard, M Dargaud, K King, AG Dumanli, S Vignolini
– Advanced Optical Materials
Block copolymer self-assembly for nanophotonics
M Stefik, S Guldin, S Vignolini, U Wiesner, U Steiner
– Chemical Society reviews
Structural colour in Chondrus crispus.
CJ Chandler, BD Wilts, S Vignolini, J Brodie, U Steiner, PJ Rudall, BJ Glover, T Gregory, RH Walker
– Scientific reports
Tuning and imaging random photonic modes
F Riboli, N Caselli, S Vignolini, F Intonti, K Vynck, P Barthelemy, A Gerardino, L Balet, LH Li, A Fiore, DS Wiersma, M Gurioli
– Proceedings of Frontiers in Optics 2015, FIO 2015
Anisotropic Light Transport in White Beetle Scales
L Cortese, L Pattelli, F Utel, S Vignolini, M Burresi, DS Wiersma
– Advanced Optical Materials
Optical Properties of Gyroid Structured Materials: From Photonic Crystals to Metamaterials
JA Dolan, BD Wilts, S Vignolini, JJ Baumberg, U Steiner, TD Wilkinson
– Advanced Optical Materials
A high transmission wave-guide wire network made by self-assembly
S Salvatore, S Vignolini, J Philpott, M Stefik, U Wiesner, JJ Baumberg, U Steiner
– Nanoscale
Is floral iridescence a biologically relevant cue in plant-pollinator signalling? A response to van der Kooi et al. (2014b)
S Vignolini, E Moyroud, T Hingant, H Banks, PJ Rudall, U Steiner, BJ Glover
– New Phytol
Ultrafast nonlinear response of gold gyroid three-dimensional metamaterials
P Farah, A Demetriadou, S Salvatore, S Vignolini, M Stefik, U Wiesner, O Hess, U Steiner, VK Valev, JJ Baumberg
– Physical Review Applied
ARTN 044002
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Research Interest Groups

Telephone number

01223 761490 (shared)

Email address