Bio-inspired Optics

The most finely tuned, rapidly responsive, and precisely directed optical systems currently known can be found on the surfaces of living organisms. Studies of brittlestars’ tunable microlenses, sea sponges’ optical fibers, butterflies’ and beetles’ intense colors, and squids’ nearly perfect camouflage have revealed 3D architectures so intricately patterned down to the nanoscale that the topography itself controls the wavelengths and direction of reflected light. 

Of particular interest to us, many of these architectures constantly reconfigure and/or control pigment movement to adjust their optical behavior in response to a changing environment. In conjunction with our collaborators’ investigations of the biological mechanisms, our group is developing bottom-up self-assembly techniques that allow us to create comparably elaborate yet tunable hierarchical photonic structures, and integrating these into the design of a new class of dynamic, responsive optical materials, such as self-adapting energy-saving window coatings that adjust their transparency in response to varying temperature, self-reporting sensors, and photonic encryption systems.

Kim P, Hu Y, Alvarenga J, Kolle M, Suo Z, Aizenberg J. Rational Design of Mechano-Responsive Optical Materials by Fine Tuning the Evolution of Strain-Dependent Wrinkling Patterns. Adv. Optical Mater. 2013;1 (5) :381-388. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Rational design strategies for mechano‐responsive optical material systems are created by introducing a simple experimental system that can continuously vary the state of bi‐axial stress to induce various wrinkling patterns, including stripes, labyrinths, herringbones, and rarely observed checkerboards, that can dynamically tune the optical properties. In particular, a switching of two orthogonally oriented stripe wrinkle patterns from oxidized polydimethylsiloxane around the critical strain value is reported, as well as the coexistence of these wrinkles forming elusive checkerboard patterns, which are predicted only in previous simulations. These strain‐induced wrinkle patterns give rise to dynamic changes in optical transmittance and diffraction patterns. A theoretical description of the observed pattern formation is presented which accounts for the residual stress in the membrane and allows for the fine‐tuning of the window of switching of the orthogonal wrinkles. Applications of wrinkle‐induced changes in optical properties are demonstrated, including a mechanically responsive instantaneous privacy screen and a transparent sheet that reversibly reveals a message or graphic and dynamically switches the transmittance when stretched and released.
Phillips KR, Vogel N, Hu Y, Kolle M, Perry CC, Aizenberg J. Tunable Anisotropy in Inverse Opals and Emerging Optical Properties. Chem. Mater. 2014;26 (4) :1622-1628. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Using self-assembly, nanoscale materials can be fabricated from the bottom up. Opals and inverse opals are examples of self-assembled nanomaterials made from crystallizing colloidal particles. As self-assembly requires a high level of control, it is challenging to use building blocks with anisotropic geometry to form complex opals, which limits the possible structures. Typically, spherical colloids are employed as building blocks, leading to symmetric, isotropic superstructures. However, a significantly richer palette of directionally dependent properties are expected if less symmetric, anisotropic structures can be created, especially originating from the assembly of regular, spherical particles. Here we show a simple method for introducing anisotropy into inverse opals by subjecting them to a post-assembly thermal treatment that results in directional shrinkage of the silica matrix caused by condensation of partially hydrated sol−gel silica structures. In this way, we can tailor the shape of the pores, and the anisotropy of the final inverse opal preserves the order and uniformity of the self-assembled structure. Further, we prevent the need to synthesize complex oval-shaped particles and crystallize them into such target geometries. Detailed X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy studies clearly identify increasing degrees of sol−gel condensation in confinement as a mechanism for the structure change. A computer simulation of structure changes resulting from the condensation-induced shrinkage further confirmed this mechanism. As an example of property changes induced by the introduction of anisotropy, we characterized the optical spectra of the anisotropic inverse opals and found that the optical properties can be controlled in a precise way using calcination temperature.

Burgess IB, Abedzadeh N, Kay TM, Shneidman AV, Cranshaw DJ, Loncar M, Aizenberg J. Tuning and Freezing Disorder in Photonic Crystals using Percolation Lithography. Scientific Reports. 2016;6 (1) :19542. Full TextAbstract
Although common in biological systems, synthetic self-assembly routes to complex 3D photonic structures with tailored degrees of disorder remain elusive. Here we show how liquids can be used to finely control disorder in porous 3D photonic crystals, leading to complex and hierarchical geometries. In these optofluidic crystals, dynamically tunable disorder is superimposed onto the periodic optical structure through partial wetting or evaporation. In both cases, macroscopic symmetry breaking is driven by subtle sub-wavelength variations in the pore geometry. These variations direct site-selective infiltration of liquids through capillary interactions. Incorporating cross-linkable resins into our liquids, we developed methods to freeze in place the filling patterns at arbitrary degrees of partial wetting and intermediate stages of drying. These percolation lithography techniques produced permanent photonic structures with adjustable disorder. By coupling strong changes in optical properties to subtle differences in fluid behavior, optofluidic crystals may also prove useful in rapid analysis of liquids.
Burgess IB, Aizenberg J, Loncar M. Creating bio-inspired hierarchical 3D–2D photonic stacks via planar lithography on self-assembled inverse opals. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. 2013;8 :045004. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Structural hierarchy and complex 3D architecture are characteristics of biological photonic designs that are challenging to reproduce in synthetic materials. Top–down lithography allows for designer patterning of arbitrary shapes, but is largely restricted to planar 2D structures. Self-assembly techniques facilitate easy fabrication of 3D photonic crystals, but controllable defect-integration is difficult. In this paper we combine the advantages of top–down and bottom–up fabrication, developing two techniques to deposit 2D-lithographically-patterned planar layers on top of or in between inverse-opal 3D photonic crystals and creating hierarchical structures that resemble the architecture of the bright green wing scales of the butterfly, Parides sesostris. These fabrication procedures, combining advantages of both top–down and bottom–up fabrication, may prove useful in the development of omnidirectional coloration elements and 3D–2D photonic crystal devices.
Phillips KR, England GT, Sunny S, Shirman E, Shirman T, Vogel N, Aizenberg J. A colloidoscope of colloid-based porous materials and their uses. Chem. Soc. Rev. 2016;45 (2) :281-322. Full TextAbstract
Nature evolved a variety of hierarchical structures that produce sophisticated functions. Inspired by these natural materials, colloidal self-assembly provides a convenient way to produce structures from simple building blocks with a variety of complex functions beyond those found in nature. In particular, colloid-based porous materials (CBPM) can be made from a wide variety of materials. The internal structure of CBPM also has several key attributes, namely porosity on a sub-micrometer length scale, interconnectivity of these pores, and a controllable degree of order. The combination of structure and composition allow CBPM to attain properties important for modern applications such as photonic inks, colorimetric sensors, self-cleaning surfaces, water purification systems, or batteries. This review summarizes recent developments in the field of CBPM, including principles for their design, fabrication, and applications, with a particular focus on structural features and materials' properties that enable these applications. We begin with a short introduction to the wide variety of patterns that can be generated by colloidal self-assembly and templating processes. We then discuss different applications of such structures, focusing on optics, wetting, sensing, catalysis, and electrodes. Different fields of applications require different properties, yet the modularity of the assembly process of CBPM provides a high degree of tunability and tailorability in composition and structure. We examine the significance of properties such as structure, composition, and degree of order on the materials' functions and use, as well as trends in and future directions for the development of CBPM.

Spotlight summary: The Brighter The Better!, Virtual Journal for Biomedical Optics, December 23, 2014. 

Butterfly's colorful trick of the light recreated in the lab, Physics World, October 10, 2014. 

Lifelike cooling for sunbaked windows, Wyss Institute press release, July 30, 2013. 

"Watermark Ink" device wins R&D 100 Award, Harvard press release, July 8, 2013. 

Bioinspired fibers change color when stretched, Harvard press release, January 28, 2013.