Bio-Inspired Optics

Hatton BD, Wheeldon I, Hancock MJ, Kolle M, Aizenberg J, Ingber DE. An artificial vasculature for adaptive thermal control of windows. Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells. 2013;117 :429-436. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Windows are a major source of energy inefficiency in buildings. In addition, heating by thermal radiation reduces the efficiency of photovoltaic panels. To help reduce heating by solar absorption in both of these cases, we developed a thin, transparent, bio-inspired, convective cooling layer for building windows and solar panels that contains microvasculature with millimeter-scale, fluid-filled channels. The thin cooling layer is composed of optically clear silicone rubber with microchannels fabricated using microfluidic engineering principles. Infrared imaging was used to measure cooling rates as a function of flow rate and water temperature. In these experiments, flowing room temperature water at 2 mL/min reduced the average temperature of a model 10×10 cm2 window by approximately 7–9 °C. An analytic steady-state heat transfer model was developed to augment the experiments and make more general estimates as functions of window size, channel geometry, flow rate, and water temperature. Thin cooling layers may be added to one or more panes in multi-pane windows or as thin film non-structural central layers. Lastly, the color, optical transparency and aesthetics of the windows could be modulated by flowing different fluids that differ in their scattering or absorption properties.
Schaffner M, England G, Kolle M, Aizenberg J, Vogel N. Combining Bottom-Up Self-Assembly with Top-Down Microfabrication to Create Hierarchical Inverse Opals with High Structural Order. Small. 2015;11 (34) :4334-4340. Full TextAbstract
Colloidal particles can assemble into ordered crystals, creating periodically structured materials at the nanoscale without relying on expensive equipment. The combination of small size and high order leads to strong interaction with visible light, which induces macroscopic, iridescent structural coloration. To increase the complexity and functionality, it is important to control the organization of such materials in hierarchical structures with high degrees of order spanning multiple length scales. Here, a bottom-up assembly of polystyrene particles in the presence of a silica sol–gel precursor material (tetraethylorthosilicate, TEOS), which creates crack-free inverse opal films with high positional order and uniform crystal alignment along the (110) crystal plane, is combined with top-down microfabrication techniques. Micrometer scale hierarchical superstructures having a highly regular internal nanostructure with precisely controlled crystal orientation and wall profiles are produced. The ability to combine structural order at the nano- and microscale enables the fabrication of materials with complex optical properties resulting from light–matter interactions at different length scales. As an example, a hierarchical diffraction grating, which combines Bragg reflection arising from the nanoscale periodicity of the inverse opal crystal with grating diffraction resulting from a micrometer scale periodicity, is demonstrated.
Singleton TA, Burgess IB, Nerger BA, Goulet-Hanssens A, Koay N, Barrett CJ, Aizenberg J. Photo-tuning of Highly Selective Wetting in Inverse Opals. Soft Matter. 2014;10 (9) :1325-1328. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Crack-free inverse opals exhibit a sharply defined threshold wettability for infiltration that has enabled their use as colourimetric indicators for liquid identification. Here we demonstrate direct and continuous photo-tuning of this wetting threshold in inverse opals whose surfaces are function- alized with a polymer doped with azobenzene chromophores.

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.