Compressing Bio-inspired Composite Materials and Observing how they push back (BEP)

What and Why

Native tissues have remarkable mechanical properties, exhibiting a relatively soft response at low deformations but a stiff response at high deformations. This adaptivity to strain enables tissues to allow dynamic processes such as cell migration or proliferation, while protecting the tissue from rupture. The mechanical properties of tissue arise from the network of fibrillar proteins and polysaccharides that make up the extracellular matrix, which forms are space filling mesh as an environment for cells to live.

An important aspect of this mesh is the porosity, or the average size of the pores in the network. This quantity plays a key role in the diffusion of biological molecules essential for cellular processes such as cell differentiation. One method to measure the porosity of biopolymer networks is compressional rheology, which can also give further insight into the network's mechanical properties.

The Project

In our lab we produce extracellular matrix mimics from individual components, such as collagen or fibrin, and measure their mechanical properties. In this project, you will produce an array of composite materials using hyaluronic acid and fibrillar proteins. You will then use a commercial rheometer to measure the response of the materials to compressional and shear strains. The final results will aid in understanding how the composite nature of the material affects the architecture of the meshwork, a key player in the essential process of biomolecular tranport.


Iain Muntz ( & Gijsje Koenderink (

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