The Optics of Complex Systems group focuses its research on how complex media interact with light, but also on how light can be used to manufacture new materials and design their functionalities.
Our main interests lie in disordered, bio-inspired and smart photonic materials, which we design, model, fabricate and optically characterize in our laboratories. This involves a highly multidisciplinary approach to study both experimentally and numerically how light propagates and interacts with these structures, exploring the rich physics that characterizes wave propagation in structures that are neither perfectly ordered nor random. At the same time, studying the photonic and structural solutions developed in the biological world allows us to take inspiration from Nature in order to engineer novel materials with unique optical, mechanical or thermoregulating properties. Soft polymeric materials play a key role in this field as they can be used to mimic behaviors of living systems. They can be designed and fabricated using self-assembly methods such as the spontaneous alignment of liquid crystals. These materials can be structured down to the nanoscale exploiting photolithographic techniques and can be made photoresponsive to enable advanced, light-activated capabilities in the fields of robotics, microfluidics and tunable photonics. Thanks to their ability to change their shape in response to a luminous stimulus, we demonstrated tiny untethered robots walking on different surfaces, swimming in liquids or manipulating objects at the microscale.
More recently, aiming at applications in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, we explored the interaction of liquid crystalline polymers with living matter, showing how these materials can serve as a biocompatible substrate for the growth of different cells or mimic the mechanical function of biological muscles.