Professor Nico Bruns of the Adolphe Merkle Institute has been awarded a prestigious European training grant worth CHF 2.6 million. This first Innovative Training Network (ITN) coordinated by the University of Fribourg will allow nine students to carry out their PhD research on bio-inspired materials at the universities of Fribourg (Switzerland), Freiburg (Germany) and Cambridge (UK).
ITNs provide students with the opportunity to pursue their academic training within an international multidisciplinary framework along with temporary industrial internships. They are part of the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions that encourage transnational and interdisciplinary mobility.
The grant awarded to Bruns, who holds a Swiss National Science Foundation Professorship in macromolecular chemistry, will allow nine PhD students to work at the three universities collaborating on the project - Fribourg (Switzerland), Freiburg (Germany) and Cambridge (UK). They will benefit from direct access to multidisciplinary laboratories working in the fields of physics, chemistry and biology and hone their research and development skills there. Workshops will also allow them to develop their soft skills in technology transfer, management, writing and communication.
The “Plant-inspired Materials and Surfaces” (PlaMatSu) project, with CH 2.6 million in funding, will be coordinated by Bruns and linked to the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research Bio-Inspired Materials.
The research carried out by the PhD students will focus on the functionalities of plant cuticles. This external layer, which protects plant leaves and petals, is made of bio-polymers and wax and has a hierarchical structure. It can for example regulate water permeability or lead to the development of colored, sticky and smooth surfaces. PlaMatSu encourages researchers to consider how these surfaces are formed and to use this as inspiration to develop novel functional materials such as structurally colored surfaces, materials capable of dispensing lubrication in a controlled fashion, structures that can repel insects or membranes that can control moisture permeability.