Photonic nanostructure, heal thyself


Structural colours have a brighter future, inspired by biological wound-repair observed in the animal world, writes Amy Middleton.


A self-healing hydrogel with structural colours.
Yuanjin Zhao

Structural colours – materials that employ photonic nanostructures to interact with light with a brilliantly iridescent result – have captured the imaginations of researchers in recent years. However, the fragility of these nanostructures poses an ongoing challenge in their development.

The structural colours have applications in optical devices and high-tech security in hydrogel form, but they are highly sensitive to damage.

As a potential solution to this problem, researchers led by Fanfan Fu at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have strengthened the material with self-healing hydrogel, inspired by biological wound-repair observed in the animal world.

The new composite hydrogel has been shown to successfully increase the longevity and survivability of the material.

Structural colours themselves are also inspired by the natural world. Animals use their structural colours for camouflage, communication and mating.

The prospect of self-healing hydrogels could be crucial for further research, as well as practical applications, the researchers say.

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