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Department of Chemistry

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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)



Angular optical response of cellulose nanocrystal films explained by the distortion of the arrested suspension upon drying
B Frka-Petesic, G Kamita, G Guidetti, S Vignolini
– Physical Review Materials
Living light: Optics, ecology and design principles of natural photonic structures
BD Wilts, S Vignolini
– Interface Focus
Structural colours in the frond of Microsorum thailandicum.
LM Steiner, Y Ogawa, VE Johansen, CR Lundquist, H Whitney, S Vignolini
– Journal of the Royal Society Interface
Hierarchical Photonic Pigments via the Confined Self-Assembly of Bottlebrush Block Copolymers
D-P Song, TH Zhao, G Guidetti, S Vignolini, RM Parker
– ACS nano
Coherent backscattering of light by an anisotropic biological network
G Jacucci, OD Onelli, A De Luca, J Bertolotti, R Sapienza, S Vignolini
– Interface focus
Roll-to-roll fabrication of touch-responsive cellulose photonic laminates
H-L Liang, MM Bay, R Vadrucci, CH Barty-King, J Peng, JJ Baumberg, MFL De Volder, S Vignolini
– Nat Commun
Printing of Responsive Photonic Cellulose Nanocrystal Micro-Film Arrays
TH Zhao, RM Parker, CA Williams, KTP Lim, B Frka-Petesic, S Vignolini
– Advanced Functional Materials
Unexpected stability of aqueous dispersions of raspberry-like colloids.
Y Lan, A Caciagli, G Guidetti, Z Yu, J Liu, VE Johansen, M Kamp, C Abell, S Vignolini, OA Scherman, E Eiser
– Nature Communications
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
– The New phytologist
Living Light 2018: Conference Report
O Onelli, B Wilts, S Vignolini
– Biomimetics
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Research Interest Groups

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01223 761490 (shared)

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