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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry


Hello there!

I am Aurimas but a lot of people call me just Auris. I am a final year PhD student here, in the Bio-inspired Photonics (BIPs) group.

I finished a 4-year Natural Sciences degree at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Chemistry in my final two years. Following, the undergraduate studies, I have joined the BIPs group to do my PhD. I am very grateful that my studies have been support by EPSRC as well as Lord Lewis Research Studentship in Chemistry by Robinson College.

I work on anything chitin-related. Chitin is a biopolymer which is found in many organisms on the planet such as crabs, prawns, insects, cephalopods, and even fungi! Chitin primarily helps these organisms to maintain their structure. Many of these organisms actually have evolved to use chitin for more than just that!

There are numerous insects which are vibrantly colourful because of structures made of composites which chitin being a crucial part. There also numerous crustaceans which are tough to crack because of composite materials in which chitin plays a crucial part. In a number of these organisms, the key aspect is that these composites aren't just a random mess but a hierarchically organised structure! This structure primarily made of chitin is like a circular staircase which, depending on how much your wind it up, gives either very good resistance to fracture (like in crabs) or structural coloration (like in scarab beetles).

That is just perplexing how nature can use a single biopolymer, chitin, for such different purposes and so the goal of my PhD is to try to make such a material myself of nothing else but the nature's beloved chitin.

I've probably have said a word chitin so many times but I just cannot resist talking about it as it's a biopolymer which has a massive potential and it's bio-degradable and quite often a waste by-product as it turns out people don't really eat the prawn or crab shells...

To achieve my goal, I primarily study chitin nanocrystals (ChNCs). They are a few hundred nanometer long and a few nanometer wide stick-like nanoparticles (yes, they are tiny!). Apart from them being tiny, they are phenomenal because at the right conditions, they can spontaneously self-assemble into a complex hierarchical structure! ChNCs in this way are liquid crystals and in many ways like the LCD display to look at to read about chitin and me.

ChNCs self-assemble into hierarchical structure which is termed chiral nematic (or cholesteric) which is surprisingly similar to the structure (solid) found in crabs shell or many vibrantly coloured beetles! Amazingly, these ChNCs while being in a liquid form with a self-assembled hierarchical structure can be just simply left to dry. The result - solid films and, behold!, the structure is retained.

So in summary, I use chitin, an industrial waste product (which is also biodegradable) to manufacture hierarchical structures found in crabs (which makes them tough)  and in beetles (to make them coloured). I tinker and study the parameters which affect the ChNCs and their self-assembly into these structures so that we could enjoy the inspiring architectures which the crabs or some beetles enjoy!

Some of my achievements of my PhD project are described in much detail in the publication Controlling The Self-Assembly of Aqueous Chitin Nanocrystal Suspensions!


Cucurbit[8]uril-derived graphene hydrogels
O Scherman, VK Rana, A Tabet, JA Vigil, CJ Balzer, A Narkevicius, J Finlay, C Hallou, DH Rowitch, H Bulstrode
– ACS Macro Letters
Controlling the Self-Assembly Behavior of Aqueous Chitin Nanocrystal Suspensions
A Narkevicius, L Steiner, R Parker, Y Ogawa, B Frka-Petesic, S Vignolini
– Biomacromolecules
The Self-Assembly of Cellulose Nanocrystals: Hierarchical Design of Visual Appearance
RM Parker, G Guidetti, CA Williams, T Zhao, A Narkevicius, S Vignolini, B Frka-Petesic
– Advanced Materials
Solid state NMR of isotope labelled murine fur: a powerful tool to study atomic level keratin structure and treatment effects.
WCV Wong, A Narkevicius, WY Chow, DG Reid, R Rajan, RA Brooks, M Green, MJ Duer
– Journal of biomolecular NMR

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