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Bioinspired Photonic Materials from Cellulose: Fabrication, Optical Analysis, and Applications

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Parker, Richard M.; orcid: 0000-0002-4096-9161; paragon-plus: 2526578; email: 
Parton, Thomas G.; paragon-plus: 5133432; orcid: 0000-0001-7153-1042 
Chan, Chun Lam Clement; orcid: 0000-0002-5812-8440; paragon-plus: 5350377 
Bay, Mélanie M.; paragon-plus: 5133443; orcid: 0000-0001-8394-6712 
Frka-Petesic, Bruno; orcid: 0000-0001-5002-5685; paragon-plus: 2756898 


Conspectus: Polysaccharides are a class of biopolymers that are widely exploited in living organisms for a diversity of applications, ranging from structural reinforcement to energy storage. Among the numerous types of polysaccharides found in the natural world, cellulose is the most abundant and widespread, as it is found in virtually all plants. Cellulose is typically organized into nanoscale crystalline fibrils within the cell wall to give structural integrity to plant tissue. However, in several species, such fibrils are organized into helicoidal nanostructures with a periodicity comparable to visible light (i.e., in the range 250–450 nm), resulting in structural coloration. As such, when taking bioinspiration as a design principle, it is clear that helicoidal cellulose architectures are a promising approach to developing sustainable photonic materials. Different forms of cellulose-derived materials have been shown to produce structural color by exploiting self-assembly processes. For example, crystalline nanoparticles of cellulose can be extracted from natural sources, such as cotton or wood, by strong acid hydrolysis. Such “cellulose nanocrystals” (CNCs) have been shown to form colloidal suspensions in water that can spontaneously self-organize into a cholesteric liquid crystal phase, mimicking the natural helicoidal architecture. Upon drying, this nanoscale ordering can be retained into the solid state, enabling the specific reflection of visible light. Using this approach, colors from across the entire visible spectrum can be produced, alongside striking visual effects such as iridescence or a metallic shine. Similarly, polymeric cellulose derivatives can also organize into a cholesteric liquid crystal. In particular, edible hydroxypropyl cellulose (HPC) is known to produce colorful mesophases at high concentrations in water (ca. 60–70 wt %). This solution state behavior allows for interesting visual effects such as mechanochromism (enabling its use in low-cost colorimetric pressure or strain sensors), while trapping the structure into the solid state enables the production of structurally colored films, particles and 3D printed objects. In this article, we summarize the state-of-the-art for CNC and HPC-based photonic materials, encompassing the underlying self-assembly processes, strategies to design their photonic response, and current approaches to translate this burgeoning green technology toward commercial application in a wide range of sectors, from packaging to cosmetics and food. This overview is supported by a summary of the analytical techniques required to characterize these photonic materials and approaches to model their optical response. Finally, we present several unresolved scientific questions and outstanding technical challenges that the wider community should seek to address to develop these sustainable photonic materials.



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Accounts of Materials Research

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ShanghaiTech University and American Chemical Society
H2020 European Research Council (101001637)
H2020 European Research Council (639088)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/L015978/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/T517847/1)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/V00364X/1)
Croucher Foundation (NA)