Our research is centered around biomaterials science, polymer chemistry, soft matter physics, and nanotechnology, with focus on exploring biology to develop advanced and programmable soft materials for robotic applications in healthcare, bioengineering, and environmental science.

BioInspired

Materials

Lab

BIM

We are driven by engineering at the molecular, nano-, and microscale to program the materials structure and properties, and to encode advanced functionalities. We are building an interdisciplinary and collaborative research group with focus on both fundamental and applied research (including materials design, synthesis, characterization, modeling, and engineering applications).

Biological Materials

Nature has refined the design of living organisms through years of evolution, and as a result we find natural materials with remarkable properties that often exceed their synthetic equivalents. We are interested in understanding the underlying nanoscale physics of biological materials and adapting the concepts to engineered systems.

Our research focuses on natural and bioinspired biomolecules, their self-assembly into well-defined nanostructures, and their properties at the nano-, micro-, and macroscale. We are interested in structural and functional biomolecules and biocomposites, including cephalopod-derived proteins, silks, elastins, collagens, membrane proteins, chitin, cellulose, enzymes, etc.

By controlling their nanostructure (through molecular design and controlled self-assembly), we can program the properties of such biomolecules and process them into functional biomimetic devices and materials with programmable performance (mechanical strength, adhesion, energy dissipation, transport, etc.).

Multifunctional Smart Materials

Smart materials respond to diverse external stimuli (pH, temperature, humidity, light, electric, and magnetic field) by changing their structure and physicochemical properties. By carefully designing the synthesis, fabrication, and processing of smart materials, we can control their molecular assembly and their dynamic nanostructure.

We are interested in dynamic materials (elastomers, hydrogels, nanocomposites, and thin films) with programmable and switchable properties. We design and program dynamic properties that are triggered by specific stimulus, such as mechanical, optical, thermal, conducting, degradation, and self-healing properties.

Using these smart materials, we are developing advanced fibers and textiles, switchable adhesives, antibiofouling surfaces for medical devices, biodegradable sensors, soft actuators, and shape-changing microrobots for biomedical applications.

Small-Scale Robotics & Soft Machines

Our group is interested in the design, manufacturing, characterization, and applications of new advanced functional materials (synthetic and biological) with encoded robotic functionalities for small-scale and soft robotics, including programmable actuators, wearable sensors, self-powered microrobots, and biodegradable flexible devices.

 

Mechanical properties suitable for interaction with biological tissue, soft actuation mechanisms at small scales, and micro-/nanofabrication strategies are key in material development and design of soft small-scale robots and machines. In addition, novel soft robots should be biocompatible, biodegradable, able to operate in safe physiological conditions, and capable of incorporating additional functionalities such as drug delivery or self-healing.

Illustrations by Adrián Bago

BIOINSPIRED MATERIALS LAB

© Abdon Pena-Francesch 2020

University of Michigan

North Campus Research Complex
2800 Plymouth Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48109