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Abdon Pena-Francesch
Research interests
  • Biomimetics

  • Self-assembly

  • Biological materials

  • Multifunctional smart materials

  • Soft and small-scale robotics

  • Bionanotechnology


University of Michigan (MI, USA)

Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Robotics Institute

Assistant Professor (starting 2021) 

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Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (Stuttgart, Germany)

Physical Intelligence Department (Metin Sitti's group)

Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow (2018 - 2020)


Penn State University (PA, USA)

Engineering Science and Mechanics Department, Materials Research Institute (Melik Demirel's group)

Ph.D. (2017)


Institut Químic de Sarrià, Universitat Ramon Llull (Barcelona, Spain)

Group d'Enginyeria de Materials (Salvador Borrós's group)

M.Sc. Chemical Engineering (2013), B. Sc. Mechanical Engineering (2011)

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. 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 and nanostructure, self-assembly and properties. 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.

Starting in January 2021, I am moving back to the USA to start my own research group at the University of Michigan in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, where we will work on bioinspired materials for applications in robotics, healthcare, and environmental science.

Besides research, music has always been a key part of my life. 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 currently I am not active in the music pro scene, I am still playing and making music whenever I can with friends. 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 complexity and diversity of underwater ecosystems are fascinating, and have greatly motivated my research on biological materials.

I have two rescued cats, Cleta and Murphy, that love to crash my online meetings.

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