Research interests

  • Biomimetics

  • Self-assembly

  • Biological materials

  • Multifunctional smart materials

  • Soft and small-scale robotics

  • Bionanotechnology

Education & research experience

Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Physical Intelligence Department (Stuttgart, Germany)

Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow (Advisor: Prof. Metin Sitti) 2018 - ...

Developing protein-based biodegradable actuators and microswimmers with sensing, self-repairing, and drug release properties for small-scale robotics.

The Pennsylvania State University, Engineering Science and Mechanics Department (PA, USA)

Ph. D. (Advisor: Prof. Melik C. Demirel) 2017

Investigated the sequence, nanostructure, self-assembly and properties (mechanical, optical, conducting, adhesive, and selfhealing) of novel cephalopod-inspired structural proteins.

Institut Químic de Sarrià, Universitat Ramon Llull, Group d'Enginyeria de Materials (Barcelona, Spain)

M.Sc. Chemical Engineering 2013, B. Sc. Mechanical Engineering 2011 (Advisor: Prof. Salvador Borrós)

Developed thermo-responsive hydrogel thin films polymerized by iCVD with tailored properties for antibiofouling applications. 

Honors & awards

– Humboldt Research Fellowship for Postdoctoral Researchers (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation) 2018-2020

– Alumni Association Dissertation Award, Distinguished Doctoral Scholar Medal. Penn State University (best Ph.D. thesis)  2017

Certificate of Outstanding Contribution in Reviewing. Elsevier 2017
– NIST Center for Neutron Research Summer School Travel Award (NIST). Gaithersburg MD, USA. 2017 
– Rustum and Della Roy Innovation in Materials Research Award. Penn State University 2015-2016
– Penn State Inventor Incentive Award. Penn State University 2016
– American Conference on Neutron Scattering Travel Award. ACNS Meeting, Long Beach CA, 2016
Graduate Student AwardMaterials Research Society (MRS) 2016 Spring Meeting, Phoenix AZ.
First prize award at ESM Today Graduate Research Symposium. Penn State University 2015
– Sabih and Güler Hayek Graduate Scholarship in Engineering Science and Mechanics. Penn State University 2014-2017
– NSF Fellow: International Summer School on Biocomplexity. Boğaziçi University, Istambul, Turkey. 2014
– Third prize award at ESM Today Graduate Research Symposium. Penn State University 2014
– P. Salvador Gil Award to best master thesis. Institut Químic de Sarrià, Barcelona, Spain 2013
– AGAUR Mobint Fellowship (Government of Catalunya)  2012

Short Bio & Personal Info

I was born in Tarragona (Catalunya, Spain) and I spent my childhood in the small town of Capçanes (Priorat region), which is known for the production of high quality wine (DOQ). I moved to Valencia with my family when I was six and lived there through my teenage years. In Valencia, I joined the Professional Conservatory of Music where I studied piano in parallel with my studies. Later on I moved to Barcelona to go to college and obtained my B. Sc. and M. Sc. in Mechanical and Chemical Engineering respectively from Institut Químic de Sarrià (IQS). During my time in Barcelona I was a research assistant in GEMAT (Materials Engineering Group) under the supervision of Prof. Salvador Borros, where I worked on stimuli-responsive polymer thin films. In the final stage of my M. Sc., I went to Penn State as a visiting scholar in Prof. Melik C. Demirel‘s group and later joined his group as full Ph.D. student working on proteins. At Penn State, I pioneered the research on novel cephalopod-inspired structural proteins and investigated their sequence, nanostructure, self-assembly and properties (mechanical, optical, conducting, adhesive, and selfhealing). After graduation, I received a Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellowship and joined Prof. Metin Sitti's Physical Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany. Here, I am developing new materials for soft and small-scale robotic systems with autonomous locomotion, sensing, self-healing, and drug-release capabilities, for biomedical applications.

Besides research, music is my passion. I was classically trained in the Professional Conservatory of Music of Valencia by pianists Santiago Casero and Luis Yuste. Inspired at an early age by Jon Lord and Keith Emerson, I progressively moved towards rock music and founded/joined the bands Silent Poison, OnTheRhoads and Acid Cookies, and toured around Spain. Although time is constrained in the academic research life and I am not fully active in the music scene, I am still playing and making music whenever I can. I am also a vinyl record collector and I am always looking for interesting music shows.

I also love scuba-diving (certified PADI Rescue Scuba-diver) and exploring the underwater world. The beauty and diversity of underwater ecosystems are fascinating, and have greatly motivated my research on biomimetic materials.

Last, I have two rescued cats, Cleta and Murphy, that for some reason enjoy my ramblings on science and music. Probably because they come with belly rubs and treats...

Dr. Abdon Pena-Francesch

Research website

© Abdon Pena-Francesch 2019

Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems

Physical Intelligence Department

Heisenbergstr. 3 70569 Stuttgart Germany