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Bio-inspired and bionic materials for enhanced photosynthesis


Álvaro Escobar

Álvaro Escobar is based at Hoekmine BV (Utrecht) in collaboration with Hogeschool Utrecht. Álvaro was born in Tenerife, Spain, and went to school in Algeciras (Cadiz). He obtained his Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from the University Pablo de Olavide (Seville), where he worked on genetic modified Pseudomonas putida to control the formation of the biofilm, gaining experience in biofilm and genetic modified bacteria. With this project in combination with other three, called Biofilm Transformers, he participated in iGEM competition 2016. Between his Bachelor and Master, he did a semester internship in the Environmental Biotechnology Department of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, where he worked on improving the release of outer membrane vesicles using different stressors. In 2017, he started his Master's Degree in Microbial Ecology from University of Vienna, where he worked on microbial degradation of jellyfish detritus matter, gaining experience in fluorescence microscopy.

Arianna Rizzo

Arianna Rizzo is a Marine Biologist interested in the sustainable use of marine natural resources. In 2019 she obtained her MSc in Marine Biology at the Polytechnic University of Ancona, in Italy. Her MSc thesis focused on the improvement in the cultivating practices of Haematococcus pluvialis. This green microalgae is predominantly grown for its production of astaxanthin, which is of commercial interest to the nutraceutical industry for its antioxidant properties.  After working in Norway for 7 months at the NIBIO Research Institute, on the industrial production of microalgae, she joined the RSBE group at the University of Nantes.  During the BEEP project she will examine diatom biophotonics, investigating the physical structure in microphytobenthic communities. This will bring a greater understanding of the light environment inside artifical diatom biofilms and its impact on photosynthesis.  

Ariel Garcia Fleitas


Ariel obtained his MSc degree in Radiochemical Sciences in the Highest Institute of Technology and Applied Sciences (InSTEC), Cuba, where he worked on Computational Chemistry obtaining radiopharmaceutical candidates to cancer diagnosis using Positron Emission Tomography (PET). He then joined the research group of Prof Gugliermo Lazani and Prof Cosimo D’Andrea to work on the topic “Photosynthetic processes in algae via time-resolved spectroscopy” at the POLIMI/IIT. The main objective of his project is to understand the basis of photo-protection mechanisms in Chondrus crispus and to study the interaction of light sensitive materials with diatoms.

Cesar Vicente Garcia


Cesar Vicente obtained a B.Sc in Chemistry from the University of Navarre in 2016 and in Biochemistry in 2018. He followed a two-year Research Training Program in genetic modification of T-Lymphocytes for adoptive T-Cell therapy at CIMA (Pamplona), under the supervision of Dr. Sandra Hervas-Stubbs. During his studies, he developed an interest in understanding how biology works at a chemical level, so in 2019 he completed a M.Sc in Organic Chemistry at the Autonomous University of Madrid. There, he worked in the Tortosa group, under the supervision of Dr. Ignacio Colomer, on the characterization of amphiphilic molecules and their supramolecular structures, in pursuit of studying their autocatalytic activity in connection with the origin of life.

He is now based at the University of Bari Aldo Moro, in Italy, where he is enrolled in a PhD program within the ITN BEEP, under the supervision of Prof. Gianluca Maria Farinola. In a biomimetic approach, Cesar aims to biotechnologically produce functional biomaterials by exploiting structures present in photosynthetic microorganisms. During the BEEP project he will focus on the functionalization of silica shells of diatoms with organic molecules as nanostructured silica for application in photonics and biomedicine.

Maria Murace


Maria grew up in a small town in the south of Italy and moved to Pisa for her academic studies. She was awarded a BSc degree in Physics in 2016 and she obtained a MSc degree in Physics of Matter at University of Pisa in December 2019. For her final Thesis project, Maria worked on the fabrication and characterization of a light-responsive soft actuator at NEST laboratories of Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa.

On October 2020 Maria will join the Bio-Inspired Photonics group at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Dr. Silvia Vignolini. In the BEEP project, she will investigate the light propagation and harvesting in various seaweeds and other marine organisms, and how they adapt to external factors such as light conditions.

Michele Pompilio


Michele was born and raised in Foggia, a city in southern Italy, and later moved to Tuscany, where he obtained his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Physics at the University of Pisa. During his studies, he developed a fascination for novel materials, which heavily influenced his choice of topic for his theses. Both of them, in fact, revolved around a multi-scale study of the optical properties of a thermochromic polymeric material, with measurements taken by means of near-field and confocal microscopy.Michele is now based at the University College London where he is part of the EU Horizon 2020 ITN “Bio-inspired and bionic matErials for Enhanced Photosynthesis” (BEEP), working on a project titled “Exploitation of bio-inspired light-management strategies” under the supervision of Prof Franco Cacialli. The aim of this project is to study marine organisms which have evolved interesting photonic structures and to apply this knowledge to the development of new bio-inspired materials and systems.




Margot Minju Arnould-Pétré


Margot grew up in France and completed a BSc in 2016 with a double major in Life Sciences at Université Pierre et Marie Curie and in History at Université Paris Sorbonne, including an erasmus year at University College London, UK. She later continued her education with the International Master in Marine Biological Resources (IMBRSea) during which she gained a sound knowledge of applied marine ecology and conservation, attending different universities around Europe, participating in summer schools, and conducting short-term projects. She graduated in September 2019, following the completion of her Master Thesis focused on building a dynamic population model for a species of sea urchin endemic to the Kerguelen Plateau (Southern Ocean) confronted to environmental changes.

Margot Minju is now part of the Bio-Inspired and Bionic Materials for Enhanced Photosynthesis (BEEP) project. Based in the Natural History Museum London under the supervision of Prof. Juliet Brodie, her work will focus on researching structural color, the physical mechanism behind the iridescence of some macroalgae. By looking into optical responses in relation to the morphology, photophysiology, phylogeny and microbiome of the seaweeds, she will try to understand how structural colour is used as a light-management mechanism by these organisms.



Gabriel Ferreira


Gabriel grew up in France and graduated at the University of Nantes. He obtained a BSc in Environmental Biology in 2018 and a MSc in Marine Ecosystems and Bioproduction in 2020. He did several internships at the University of Aveiro, in Portugal, to study photosynthetic sacoglossan sea slugs. In Aveiro, he developed a special interest in studying associations between alga and animal in marine symbiosis, and particularly on light management by marine organisms for photosynthetic purposes. His master thesis consisted in the in vivo quantification of the chlorophyll a content in the kleptoplastidic sea slug Elysia timida, using remote sensing techniques such as spectrometry, fluorescence measurement and digital photography.

Starting in September 2020, within the Bio-inspired and bionic materials for enhanced photosynthesis (BEEP) project, Gabriel will investigate the role of fluorescent host pigments for photosynthesis and optics in corals, at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, under the supervision of prof. Michael Kühl. During the project, He will characterize the optical properties and model the coral light field, and also study photosynthesis and behavior in intact corals. The goal of the project is to unravel the mechanisms whereby fluorescent host pigments affect photosynthetic efficiency in corals.

Huixuan Kang

Huixuan grew up in Changchun, a city in Northeast China, then she moved to Beijing where she was awarded her Bachelor’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering at Beijing University of Chemical Technology and worked with graphene oxide/chitosan aerogels. Later she went to Spain and obtained her Master’s degree in Materials Engineering at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. During her master studies, she developed particular interest in biomaterials and nanomaterials. In the last year of her Master study, she worked in both Porto University and IMDEA Nanociencia and investigated magnetic nanoparticles and lipid nanoparticles for magnetic hyperthermia and drug delivery as cancer treatment.

Huixuan joined the BEEP network in October 2021 to work in the group of Prof. Luisa De Cola at the University of Milan. She will develop breathing and self-sustaining hydrogels for bacterial and algal growth.