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Pollia condensata

I'm a physicist and I use optical and electron microsopy to investigate how the structure of the material in fruits like Pollia condensata [1].

These fruits have beautiful bright colours, which are produced by unusual structures in the material that makes up their outer shell, in a similar way to peacock feathers and iridescent butterflies. By investigating the way in which light is reflected from these structures, we can understand more about the material properties - the picture on the left shows two parts of the same images, using filters to select different parts of the light.

I am interested in how these structures are formed in the cell because that can tell us more about how other plant cells grow, and how we can reproduce them artificially to create entirely biocompatible plant-based iridescent and brightly coloured pigments. 

I studied physics at Imperial College London & ESPCI, Paris where my undergraduate research was in microfluidics, reproducing 'artificial spidersilk' through understanding miniaturised flows and solidification using UV light. I have also worked on biocompatible mesh materials for tissue scaffolding and medical applications, and insect adhesion (how sticky are stick insects?).

I am a science communicator; I won silver prize at SET for Britain physics parliamentary poster competition in 2016. I created the Bio Inspired Photonics outreach installation at Green Man festival in 2017, and have been a panellist and workshop leader for Cambridge Festival of Ideas as a 'Colour maker' and art/science collaborator and a speaker and panellist at Cambridge Style Week 'Innovation in fashion & materials'. I have collaborated with artists to make a number of short films about discoverynatural materials, my PhD programme the NanoDTC, as well as the University of Cambridge Nanotechnology video stills series (twice). I was an organiser and artist in the Imperial College / RCA collaboration and exhibition Artifact in 2013. 

[1]  The original paper on Pollia condensataand news coverage in Natural Geographic which got me hooked on the subject.








Long-lived polarization memory in the electronic states of lead-halide perovskites from local structural dynamics.
JPH Rivett, LZ Tan, MB Price, SA Bourelle, NJLK Davis, J Xiao, Y Zou, R Middleton, B Sun, AM Rappe, D Credgington, F Deschler
– Nat Commun
Near‐Field Electrospinning Patterning Polycaprolactone and Polycaprolactone/Collagen Interconnected Fiber Membrane
R Middleton, X Li, J Shepherd, Z Li, W Wang, SM Best, RE Cameron, YYS Huang
– Macromolecular Materials and Engineering
Disorder in convergent floral nanostructures enhances signalling to bees.
E Moyroud, T Wenzel, R Middleton, PJ Rudall, H Banks, A Reed, G Mellers, P Killoran, MM Westwood, U Steiner, S Vignolini, BJ Glover
– Nature
Invited Article: Chiral optics of helicoidal cellulose nanocrystal films
BD Wilts, AG Dumanli, R Middleton, P Vukusic, S Vignolini
– APL Photonics
Chapter 17: Bio-mimetic Structural Colour using Biopolymers
R Middleton, U Steiner, S Vignolini
Cusps, spouts and microfiber synthesis with microfluidics
A Duboin, R Middleton, F Malloggi, F Monti, P Tabeling
– Soft Matter

Graduate student