Category Archives: Current/Future Events

Bioinspired Technologies

Dr Francesco Giorgio-Serchi

SPAD-based detectors and imagers for biophotonics and other sensing applications 

Bioinspired aquatic pulsed-jetting is a potentially groundbreaking mode of propulsion for underwater vehicles. While the benefits of this mode of locomotion are apparent in terms of vehicle maneuverability, pulsed-jetting has long been considered lacking in terms of efficiency, thus casting doubt on its actual employability in real world applications. Taking inspiration from the biomechanics of jellyfish, we designed a flexible self-propelled robot that can exploit resonance to drastically increase its propulsive efficiency. Experiments confirm that resonance is key to augmenting swimming speed and efficiency, showing for the first time a self-propelled vehicle that matches the efficiency of its biological counterpart. This has further implications in the study of jellyfish by confirming that their unsurpassed swimming efficiency is linked to the elastic nature of their tissues.


Francesco Giorgio-Serchi is a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His work encompasses the design and control of underwater vehicles for enhanced propulsive performances and for operation in extreme weather conditions. Previously he was a Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, within the Fluid-Structure-Interaction group, where he studied the role of shape-variations of aquatic systems for the enhancement of maneuverability and propulsive efficiency. Prior to that he was at the Centre for Sea Technologies and Marine Robotics of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy, where he worked on the design of soft-bodied, bioinspired, aquatic vehicles. Dr. Giorgio-Serchi holds an MSc from the University of Pisa, Italy, in Marine Technologies and a PhD in Computational Fluid Dynamics from the Centre for CFD of the University of Leeds, UK.

Dr Aaron Lau

Bioinspired Molecular Nanotechnology – using Sequence Specific Peptoids for Self-Assembly and Biomedical Applications

Biological function is most often controlled by “sequence-specific” polymers. For example, 20-odd amino acid monomers join into linear chains with specific sequences (i.e. peptides) that adopt specific shapes (i.e. proteins) to exhibit diverse functionalities. The Lau group focuses on the experimental development of synthetic peptide mimics called “peptoids” that possess simpler design rules than peptides but exhibit similarly complex functionalities. This talk highlights our recent efforts in exploring and designing peptoids that can self-assemble into nanostructures and/or exhibit bioactivity. Examples illustrating the connections between peptoid sequence characteristics and antimicrobial activity, as well as between the mechanical behaviour of self-assembled peptoid nanosheets and their influence on stem cell differentiation, will be discussed.


Aaron leads the Bioinspired Molecular Interfaces group at the University of Strathclyde. He is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry and a founding member of the university’s Bionanotechnology initiative. He obtained his ScB and ScM in Materials Engineering at Brown University and his PhD in Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research. He is interested in developing self-assemblies and synthetic surfaces that mimic the nanoscale organization and functionalities observed in natural molecular interfaces. This “biointerfacial” research is driven by both fundamental scientific inquiry and potential applications. The impact of Aaron’s research is in two main areas: i) sequence-specific “peptoids” as novel nanoassemblies, antibacterial surfaces, and biomaterials, and ii) “polyphenol coatings” for surface modification of synthetic materials, including cellulose, for enzyme biocatalysis and biomedical and environmental sensing. His awards include the US NIH National Research Service Award (2011), RSC mobility fellowship (2014), Scottish Crucible (2015), and the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) Young Investigator award (2016).

Dr Stefano Mintchev

Bioinspired design strategies for morpho-functional drones

We live in the age of drones and our expectations from these machines are rising. How can drones fly longer, withstand harsh atmospheric conditions, or access and explore confined spaces? Birds and insects face these same challenges on a daily basis, thus providing a valuable source of inspiration for the development of more versatile and adaptable drones. In this talk I will present examples of bioinspired design and manufacturing approaches for the development of morpho-functional drones. These machines use adaptive morphologies, a combination of rigid and soft materials and multimodal mobility to address the aforementioned challenges.


Stefano Mintchev is Assistant Professor of Environmental Robotics at ETH Zurich. He received his Ph.D. degree in biorobotics in 2014 at the BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy. During his Ph.D. he investigated actuation and perception strategies for bioinspired underwater robots. During his postdoctoral research at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at EPFL, he worked on new design principles, soft materials and manufacturing solutions for multi-modal drones. In 2018, he co-founded the company Foldaway Haptics, where he acted as CTO until April 2020, when he joined ETH Zurich with a SNSF Eccellenza Professorial Fellowship. He is currently developing robotic solutions for today’s environmental challenges.

Dr Nico Bruns

Bio-inspired biosensing of malaria biomarkers amplified by polymerization reactions

Malaria remains one of the globally most socioeconomic devastating diseases. Similar to the current Covid-19 pandemic, rapid diagnostic tests are essential tools for the control and elimination of the disease. However, current diagnostic methods are either too expensive, laborious or not sensitive enough to detect asymptomatic carriers that continue to spread the diseases via mosquito transfection. We have developed a highly sensitive malaria diagnostic assay that is ideally suited to identify low levels of parasitemia while being based on very simple and cheap chemical reactions. Polymerization reactions are catalyzed by hemozoin, a digestion product of the malaria parasite. The resulting polymers precipitate from solution, which can be quantified by simple turbidity measurements. In addition, the work showcases that polymerization reactions cannot only be used to synthesize polymers, but also act as a powerful molecular amplification method for biosensing in general.


Nico Bruns is a professor of Macromolecular chemistry at the University of Strathclyde since 2018. He studied Chemistry at the Universities of Freiburg and Edinburgh and graduated from the University of Freiburg in 2003, and then undertook a PhD in Macromolecular Chemistry in 2007. From 2007 to 2008, he continued his academic career as a postdoctoral researcher at The University of California, Berkley. In 2013, he was awarded a Swiss National Science Foundation professorship, which enabled him to join the Adolphe Merkle Institute. Here, he headed the Macromolecular Chemistry group as an Associate professor. His research encompasses an interdisciplinary, bio-inspired approach that combines polymer chemistry and protein engineering to create new opportunities for the sustainable synthesis of polymers.

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