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Research Associate

Structural colours arise from the interaction of visible light with nano-structured materials.  The occurrence of such structures in nature has been known for over a century, but it is only in the last few decades that the study of natural photonic structures has fully matured due to the advances in imagining techniques and computational modelling. Even though a plethora of different colour-producing architectures in a variety of species has been investigated, a few significant questions are still open:

  • How do these structures develop in living organisms?
  • Does disorder play a functional role in biological photonics?
  • If so, is it possible to say that the optical response of natural disordered photonics has been optimised under evolutionary pressure?
  • And, finally, can we exploit the well-adapted photonic design principles that we observe in Nature to fabricate functional materials with optimised scattering response?

In my work I try to answer the questions above: I microscopically investigate in vivo the growth of a cuticular multilayer, one of the most common colour-producing strategies in nature, in the green beetles Gastrophysa viridula showing how the interplay between different materials varies during the various life stages of the beetles; I further investigate disordered photonic structures and their biological role, such as the anisotropic chitinous network of fibres in the white beetle Cyphochilus, the whitest low-refractive index material; finally, inspired by these natural designs, I fabricate and study light transport in biocompatible highly-scattering materials.

I studied Experimental and Theoretical Physics at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge: MA (Cantab), MSci. I then joined the Bio-Inspired Photonics group in 2014 and compled my PhD under the supervion of Dr Silvia Vignolini.




Coherent backscattering of light by an anisotropic biological network
G Jacucci, OD Onelli, A De Luca, J Bertolotti, R Sapienza, S Vignolini
– Interface Focus
Living light 2018: Conference report
O Onelli, B Wilts, S Vignolini
– Biomimetics (Basel, Switzerland)
Photonics in Nature: From Order to Disorder
VE Johansen, OD Onelli, LM Steiner, S Vignolini
Anomalous Diffusion-Assisted Brightness in White Cellulose Nanofibril Membranes
MS Toivonen, OD Onelli, G Jacucci, V Lovikka, OJ Rojas, O Ikkala, S Vignolini
– Advanced Materials
Anomalous-Diffusion-Assisted Brightness in White Cellulose Nanofibril Membranes
MS Toivonen, OD Onelli, G Jacucci, V Lovikka, OJ Rojas, O Ikkala, S Vignolini
– Advanced Materials
Bio-inspired Highly Scattering Networks via Polymer Phase Separation
J Syurik, G Jacucci, OD Onelli, H Hölscher, S Vignolini
– Advanced Functional Materials
Evolutionary‐Optimized Photonic Network Structure in White Beetle Wing Scales
BD Wilts, X Sheng, M Holler, A Diaz, M Guizar-Sicairos, J Raabe, R Hoppe, S-H Liu, R Langford, OD Onelli, D Chen, S Torquato, U Steiner, CG Schroer, S Vignolini, A Sepe
– Adv Mater
Development of structural colour in leaf beetles.
OD Onelli, TVD Kamp, JN Skepper, J Powell, TDS Rolo, T Baumbach, S Vignolini
– Scientific reports
Disordered Cellulose-Based Nanostructures for Enhanced Light Scattering.
S Caixeiro, M Peruzzo, OD Onelli, S Vignolini, R Sapienza
– ACS applied materials & interfaces

Postdoctoral researcher

Telephone number

01223 334372 (shared)