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Dr Silvia Vignolini


Cellulose is one of the most abundant and cheap materials available. The PhD project focuses on cellulose to fabricate biomimetic and bio-inspired materials.    The student will learn different disciplines and techniques in order to obtain from one side low cost, edible, sustainable photonic materials and on the other to answer fundamental questions about the biological significance and the assembly of cellulose-based natural photonic structures.   Different species of plants develop intense and strong structural colours using cellulose. Cellulose micro-fibrils, found in several types of cells and in a wide variety of plants, can form micro-structures, which provides a strong and colour-selective reflection of light. The mechanism by which these structures are naturally formed in plant cell walls remains an unresolved problem in developmental biology.     In particular the research that will be developed during the PhD will provide answers to fundamental question and provide methodologies for devices production.   

  • Understanding the cellulose assembly in plant cell walls: reproducing structures using the same basic materials as those used in nature allows us to better understand how those structures are assembled in the plant’s cell wall. Did nature miss a trick? Are the structures perfectly adapted/optimized or are they at best tolerant of disorder in growth?
  • Exploiting cellulose structures to control light propagation: using cellulose as a new photonic material. In particular we will fabricate bio-sustainable materials with strong optical response.  
  • Edible nanostructures for structural colour: fabrications of “paper dyes”, i.e. materials that are edible to substitute artificial colorants and dyes in foods.


  • S. Vignolini et al. PNAS 109, 15712–15715, (2012).  Pointillist structural colour in Pollia fruit  S. Vignolini et al. J. R. Soc. Int 10, 20130394, (2013). 
  • Analysing photonic structures in plants   RL Antoniou Kourounioti 10, 20120847 J R Soc Interface (2013)

Dr Silvia Vignolini

Dr Silvia Vignolini
Department of Chemistry
Office Phone: 01223 761490

Second supervisor:

Beverly Glover (Dept of Plant Sciences)