Plant-Inspired Materials and Surfaces (PlaMatSu) is an Innovative Training Network (ITN), funded by the European Commission’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions. It allows nine PhD students to work at three leading European universities in the field of bio-inspired materials: University of Fribourg (Switzerland), University of Freiburg (Germany) and University of Cambridge (UK). This academic network of excellence is strengthened by the industrial partners BASF SE (Germany), fischerwerke GmbH & Co. KG (Germany), and Dr. Tillwich GmbH Werner Stehr (Germany), as well as by the communication partners VDI - The Association of German Engineers and Wikimedia CH. The network is coordinated by AMI Macromolecular Chemistry Professor Nico Bruns.
PlaMatSu brings together distinguished plant biologists, polymer chemists and soft matter physicists to study the development, structure and properties of multifunctional plant cuticles on a fundamental level and to create novel materials and surfaces based on the working principles of cuticles. This external layer of bio-polymers and wax protects leaves and flowers and serves many functions for the plant. It can, for example, use its pores to adjust water permeability and thus regulate water evaporation, the absorption of carbon dioxide, and the release of oxygen. Moreover, its complex surface structure is responsible for a number of other functions at the micrometer and sub-micrometer level, such as self-cleaning, the formation of structural color and the regulation of insect-adhesion. Understanding the formation of these surfaces will lead to the development of 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. At AMI, three students are integrated in the Polymer Chemistry and Materials, Soft Matter Physics, and Macromolecular Chemistry groups.
Innovative training networks are part of the European Commission’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions and provide students with the opportunity to pursue their academic training within an international multidisciplinary framework along with temporary industrial internships. The aim is to boost scientific excellence and business innovation, and enhances researchers’ career prospects through developing their skills in entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. PlaMatSu´s doctoral candidates will profit from a network of interdisciplinary laboratories (chemistry, physics, biology and materials science), existing competence centers for bio-inspired research at the participating universities, such as the NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials, and in addition follow practical courses in technology transfer, management and communication to complement their qualifications in research and development.