Skip to main content

CBES: Center for Bio-Inspired Energy Science

Research Areas

At the Center for Bio-Inspired Energy Science (CBES) our research focuses on the five projects outlined below. See our related Publications and Research Highlights

Multi-Scale Synthesis of Artificial Muscles

Inspired by energy transduction in muscles.

Muscles are composed of soft materials that have fast mechanical responses to chemical inputs. We have already demonstrated the ability to create soft robotic materials that mechanically respond to thermal or light inputs, but at relatively slow response speeds. Our aim now is to explore the upper limits of response speed in these systems — to make them fast-acting. Our approach includes both molecular synthesis and top-down architectures of the structures.

Magnetic Morphogenesis

Inspired by biological development.

During biological development, protein signals mediate the morphogenesis of cells into larger, specific shapes that create functionality. We aim to create the same level of control over synthetic soft matter using magnetic fields that actuate motion at nano, micro and millimeter scales. We use morphogenesis to induce directed locomotion, payload delivery and actuation — and learn about the control system requirements.

Autonomous Soft Microrobots

Inspired by living cells.

Living cells navigate complex environments to perform diverse functions by integrating the capabilities of sensing, actuating, computing and communicating. Similarly, we envision developing shape-shifting “microrobots” that move autonomously and adapt their motions in response to both environmental cues and interparticle signals. Microrobots with encoded functions are potentially desirable for distributed sensing or healing/repair tasks in energy-relevant materials such as battery electrolytes, polymer membranes and catalysts.

Hierarchical Structure-Mediated Photocatalysis

Inspired by the spatial organization of functional molecules in biological systems.

Biological photosynthesis occurs in highly structured environments where the position and order of the components play a key role in the overall efficiency of multiple energy and electron transfer steps. Focusing on fundamental questions regarding the design of photocatalytic materials with bio-inspired spatial organization, we explore how hierarchically assembled synthetic materials can be used to emulate the light-driven reactions found in biological systems.

Mechanical Enhancement of Photocatalysis

Inspired by leaves.

Leaves use mechanical forces to physically rearrange their chloroplasts to control photosynthetic output. We recently discovered surprising changes in the visible light absorption spectra and photocatalytic activity of hydrogels which depend on subtle changes in supramolecular packing. Our current projects explore the potential impact of mechanical forces on the performance and control of soft matter encoded for photocatalytic activity and the possibility of accessing non-equilibrium photocatalytic states using mechanical energy.