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Dr Silvia Vignolini

Portrait of sv319

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

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)



Ultrastructure and optics of the prism-like petal epidermal cells of Eschscholzia californica (California poppy).
BD Wilts, PJ Rudall, E Moyroud, T Gregory, Y Ogawa, S Vignolini, U Steiner, BJ Glover
– New Phytol
Living Light 2018: Conference Report
O Onelli, B Wilts, S Vignolini
– Biomimetics
Photonics in Nature: From Order to Disorder
VE Johansen, OD Onelli, LM Steiner, S Vignolini
Bioinspiration Across All Length Scales of Materials
S Vignolini, N Bruns
– Adv Mater
A flower's nano-powers
T Wenzel, S Vignolini
– Physics World
Photonic Resins: Designing Optical Appearance via Block Copolymer Self-Assembly.
D-P Song, G Jacucci, F Dundar, A Naik, H-F Fei, S Vignolini, JJ Watkins
– Macromolecules
Anomalous-Diffusion-Assisted Brightness in White Cellulose Nanofibril Membranes.
MS Toivonen, OD Onelli, G Jacucci, V Lovikka, OJ Rojas, O Ikkala, S Vignolini
– Adv Mater
Block Copolymer Micelles for Photonic Fluids and Crystals
M Poutanen, G Guidetti, TI Gröschel, OV Borisov, S Vignolini, O Ikkala, AH Gröschel
– ACS Nano
Genetic manipulation of structural color in bacterial colonies
VE Johansen, L Catón, R Hamidjaja, E Oosterink, BD Wilts, TS Rasmussen, MM Sherlock, CJ Ingham, S Vignolini
– Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Bio-inspired Highly Scattering Networks via Polymer Phase Separation
J Syurik, G Jacucci, OD Onelli, H Hölscher, S Vignolini
– Advanced Functional Materials
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Research Interest Groups

Telephone number

01223 761490 (shared)

Email address