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Professor Silvia Vignolini

Professor of Chemistry and Bio-materials

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

Watch Professor Vignolini discuss her research

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)



Complex photonic response reveals three-dimensional self-organization of structural coloured bacterial colonies (vol 17, 20200196, 2020)
L Schertel, GT van de Kerkhof, G Jacucci, L Catón, Y Ogawa, BD Wilts, CJ Ingham, S Vignolini, VE Johansen
– Journal of the Royal Society Interface
Anisotropic silica colloids for light scattering
G Jacucci, BW Longbottom, CC Parkins, SAF Bon, S Vignolini
– Journal of Materials Chemistry C
Protocol for Extraction and Electron Microscopy Visualization of Lipids in Viburnum tinus Fruit Using Cryo-Ultramicrotomy.
M Sinnott-Armstrong, S Vignolini, Y Ogawa
– STAR Protocols
FullyPrinted Flexible Plasmonic Metafilms with Directional Color Dynamics
J Peng, H-H Jeong, M Smith, R Chikkaraddy, Q Lin, H-L Liang, MFL De Volder, S Vignolini, S Kar-Narayan, JJ Baumberg
– Advanced science (Weinheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany)
Hyperspectral Imaging of Photonic Cellulose Nanocrystal Films: Structure of Local Defects and Implications for Self-Assembly Pathways.
B Zhu, VE Johansen, G Kamita, G Guidetti, MM Bay, TG Parton, B Frka-Petesic, S Vignolini
– ACS Nano
Viburnum tinus Fruits Use Lipids to Produce Metallic Blue Structural Color.
R Middleton, M Sinnott-Armstrong, Y Ogawa, G Jacucci, E Moyroud, PJ Rudall, C Prychid, M Conejero, BJ Glover, MJ Donoghue, S Vignolini
– Current Biology
The limitations of extending nature’s color palette in correlated, disordered systems
S Vignolini, G Jacucci, L Schertel
– Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
A heterogeneous microbial consortium producing short-chain fatty acids from lignocellulose.
RL Shahab, S Brethauer, MP Davey, AG Smith, S Vignolini, JS Luterbacher, MH Studer
– Science
Light Management with Natural Materials: From Whiteness to Transparency
G Jacucci, L Schertel, Y Zhang, H Yang, S Vignolini
– Advanced materials (Deerfield Beach, Fla.)
Complex photonic response reveals 3D self-organization of structural colored bacterial colonies
L Schertel, GT van de Kerkhof, G Jacucci, L Catón, Y Ogawa, BD Wilts, CJ Ingham, S Vignolini, VE Johansen
– Journal of the Royal Society Interface
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