Surface engineering of renewable materials: Cellulose and biomimetic systems

Emily D. Cranston, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, Sustainability Engineering Faculty Candidate

06 May 2010 at 10:30

Location: JHE 342

By learning from nature and using bio-components, we can engineer high-performance materials with improved functionality. A thorough understanding of interfacial properties is necessary to design composites with enhanced compatibility between components and favourable material properties overall. An investigation of such properties, including chemical interactions, morphology, adhesion, friction, and attractive and repulsive forces, has been performed on various thin films containing cellulose and synthetic polymers. Cellulose is the most abundant biomacromolecule in nature and is particularly promising for use in sustainable materials because of its superior mechanical properties, low cost and high availability. The ‘tool-box’ containing surface engineering characterization techniques will be presented, highlighting atomic force microscopy (AFM) which stands out as having the sub-nanometer spatial resolution and piconewton force resolution needed to measure crucial surface properties.

Two categories of surface engineering projects will be discussed:

  1. The design of new composite materials containing cellulose in the form of nanocrystals or nanofibres. Potential applications of these materials include biocompatible pigments, optical coatings, sensors, high-strength biomedical devices (splints, casts, implants), or more generally as a substitute for other non-biodegradable thermoplastic composites.
  2. Tailoring interfacial properties in natural or biomimetic systems, including; (i) responsive materials where the dominant surface interactions change with environmental conditions, (ii) a molecular Velcro mimic with controlled dynamic adhesion, and (iii) solid-liquid material combinations that lead to the lowest recorded measurements of friction.

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