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Macromolecular Materials Laboratory


Biological systems and the materials they synthesise are of interest to materials scientists because they provide novel solutions to challenges involving synthetic materials. For example, toughness and strength are two material properties that are generally mutually exclusive to each other - improving the strength of a man-made material usually tends to decrease its toughness.

However, biological systems are able to overcome this through precise nanoscale controle of the amorphous and crystalline state.  In systems such as skin, a combination of biologically produced fibers with differing elastic moduli work in synergy to resist extension.  In biological composites, such as bones and teeth, precise control of the amorphous protein phase, the mineral phase, and crucially the interface between the two, are known to be resposible for their unique load-baring properties.

These materials tend to be hierarchical in nature, meaning that no single characterisation method or tool is suitible to providing a complete answer to the question of how their properties are related to their structure.  Instead, we use a variety of tools, including vibrational spectroscopy, WAXS/SAXS, DFT, atomistic computer modelling, and coarse-graining.

Prof James  Elliott
Professor of Macromolecular Materials Science
Fellow, Tutor and Director of Studies in Natural Sciences (Fitzwilliam College)