Bio-Inspired Photonic Materials: Producing Structurally Colored Surfaces

Bianca Datta, Sunny Jolly, V. Michael Bove, Jr. (2018- Present)

Advances in science and engineering are bringing us closer and closer to systems that respond to human stimuli in real-time. Scientists often look to biology for examples of efficient, spatially tailored multifunctional systems, drawing inspiration from photonic structures like multilayer stacks like those in the Morpho butterfly.  In this project, we develop an understanding of the landscape of responsive, bio-inspired, and active materials, drawing from principles of photonics and bio-inspired material systems. We are exploring various material processing techniques to produce and replicate structurally- colored surfaces, while developing simulation and modeling tools (such as inverse design processes) to generate new structures and colors. Such complex biological systems require advanced fabrication techniques. Our designs are realizable through fabrication using direct laser writing techniques such as two photon polymerization. We aim to compare our model system and simulations to fabricated structures using optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and angular spectrometry. This process provides a toolkit with which to examine and build other bio-inspired, tunable, and responsive photonic systems and expand the range of achievable structural colors.

Unlike with natural structures, producing biomimetic surfaces allows researchers to test beyond tunability that occurs naturally and explore new theory and models to design structures with optimized functions. The benefits of such biomimetic nanostructures are plentiful: they provide brilliant, iridescent color with mechanical stability and light steering capabilities.  By producing biomimetic nanostructures, designers and engineers can capitalize on unique properties of optical structural color, and examine these structures based on human perception and response.

This is my current PhD dissertation work. Learn more here and here.

Living Material Library: Electrorheological Fluids for Mechanosensitive Cell Environments

Bianca Datta, Sunanda Sharma, V. Michael Bove, Neri Oxman (2016-2017)

The control of living systems as part of design interfaces is of interest to both the scientific and design communities due to the ability of living organisms to sense and respond to their environments. They may, for example, detect and break down harmful environmental agents, or create beneficial products when environmental levels dropped below a certain threshold. However, it is also important for these systems to be reversible, so that the biological components are only active when their functionality is necessary, and the system can remain dormant otherwise. 

The Living Material Library is an exploration of tunable hybrid systems. Our work in this area demonstrates the means through which intrinsic material properties may be functionally changed through environmental factors and, in turn, serve as dynamic substrates for living systems. Nearly all organisms have highly developed sensing capabilities, and have been shown to behaviorally respond to changes in substrate properties. By creating a tunable and reversible material system, we explore how cell behavior such as adhesion, patterning, and differentiation may be influenced via an active interface.

In this iteration, we propose a reversible material system that allows for control of living interactions (much like a light switch). We are particularly interested in fluid material systems (such as electrorheological fluids) that transition from a liquid-like to a solid-like state when exposed to electric fields and currents. 

This endeavor brings to light the complex relationship between dynamic materials and living systems. While other methods of cell intervention often rely on light, chemicals, or temperature, here we explore substrate material properties as inputs for organisms.  Our library may allow for more directed inquiry into processes such as collective cell durotaxis, general mechanotaxis, and active sensing. This marks an initial foray into establishing candidate design methods for responsive applications.

Emotive Materials

Bianca Datta (2014-2016)


As we move towards tools that allow us to create our own materials, having a set of rules with which to evaluate, interpret, and design them will become increasingly important. One way of approaching this problem is by unpacking the ways in which materials create meaning. This project explores the more emotive aspects of materials, such as haptic responses to, cognitive evaluation of, and emotive perception of materials to understand how materials communicate meaning.The development of an effective methodology aims to lower the barriers of fabrication of engaging objects and encourage a framework for conversations around material issues. This was my master’s thesis project. 

Holographic Video Technology

Bianca Datta, Sunny Jolly, Nick Savidis (2014- 2018)



We aim to enable consumer devices  to display holographic video images in real time, suitable for entertainment, engineering, telepresence, or medical imaging. Our research addresses real-time scene capture and transmission, computational strategies, display technologies, interaction models, and applications. For our current project we adapt our guided-wave light-modulator technology to see-through lenses to create a wearable 3D display suitable for augmented or virtual reality applications. As part of this work we also are developing a femtosecond-laser-based process that can fabricate the entire device by "printing." I contribute to the research on materials for use in such systems and relevant material phenomena. 


Senior Design:

 Artificial doping in self-assembled binary nanocrystal superlattices

Bianca Datta, Divij Damodhar, Dr. Matteo Cargnello (2012- 2014)



The focus of this project was the formation of binary superlattices of cadmium selenide (CdSe) quantum dots with plasmonic gold(Au) particles. These coupled assemblies served as an observable model of atomic doping phenomena through ordered, close-packed monolayers. They are fascinating for studies on effects of plasmonics on solar cells and energy conversion devices. Ultimately this could lead to fabrication of smaller, more efficient devices. I contributed to the synthesis, characterization, and analysis of these systems. Watch our presentation here