Research at the Materials Physics Group
Mapping the diversity of colouration.
There are many organisms – especially insects – whose colouration has not been fully characterised yet. By measuring their colouration, characterising the structures and pigments behind the colouration mechanisms, and by modelling the interplay of chemical and structural colours, we try to unravel the intricate colour patterns that nature has perfected over millennia.
What remains to be seen?
Colour is integral to the visual language of many species. We are interested in understanding how animals sense and interpret the colorful signals in their environment. We study the first steps of vision in butterflies that involve interesting optical phenomena like gradient lenses, waveguiding, dichroism and reflective gratings. We use spectroscopical techniques to understand how the main optical sensor molecule, rhodopsin, has been tuned during evolution of butterflies and their diverging ecological niches. This work is conducted in collaboration with the group of Gregor Belusic (Ljubljana).
Going past the gamut of visual colours.
The importance of colouration extends past the visual range: reflecting ultraviolet may reduce its harmful effects on living tissue, controlling infrared absorption may help an organism to control its temperature. Our investigations delve into the relation between thermal conditions and the colour, providing insights into survival strategies and serving as an inspiration for novel temperature sensors.
Probing the chemical composition of biological colours.
Colours in the living nature are a complex interplay of structures and chemicals. Modern chemical analysis tools enable us to unravel the notoriously complex chemistry of biological materials. Using the power of modern enhancements of Raman and infrared spectroscopy, we examine the roles of pigments, proteins and lipids in colour mechanisms.
Imaging the growth of butterfly nanostructures.
The metamorphosis of insects is a spectacle in itself. By employing advanced imaging techniques, we chronicle the phases of transformation of butterflies, unravelling the cellular mechanics that result in the vivid colours displayed on butterfly wings. This work is conducted in collaboration with the labs of Nicola Nadeau (Sheffield), Mathias Kolle (Harvard) and Gerd Schroeder-Turk (Perth).
Crafting the next generation of bio-inspired materials
We are guided by nature’s masterful use of colour to develop novel, bio-inspired functional materials. By understanding natural colour mechanisms, we aim at aesthetically pleasing materials endowed with unique functional properties that are environmentally safe.