Module 1. Mechanically responsive materials

Mechanically responsive materials are widely exploited by living organisms in nature to perform a variety of biologically-relevant functions, such as protection against predators, morphing, sensing and actuation. Functionalities often emerge from mechanically driven biochemical processes that can take place at different length scales within the biological material. The stress-induced conformational changes of cell membrane proteins, the mechanically-driven variation of the ionic permeability of cell organelles, the shear-induced rupture of micro-containers and the orchestrated action of multiple cells in regenerating tissues are examples of mechanically-driven processes that occur at progressively coarser length scales. Such mechanically-driven phenomena control the adhesion and gating properties of cell membranes, enable the release of reactive species into the environment and trigger the complex machinery that allow for self-healing, regeneration and remodeling of tissues.

Inspired by this rich repertoire of biological materials, and building on the Module’s findings in Phases 1 and 2 (2014-2022), Module 1 will continue developing bio-inspired materials that mimick the actuation of live tissues and their response to external actuation. In Phase 3 (2022-2026), the team is interdisciplinary including former members of Modules 1 and 3 plus a new research group from Empa, and combines expertise in polymer chemistry, biophysics and computation biology.