How Nature Makes Materials

Professor Ullrich Steiner, John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Physics of Materials at the University of Cambridge

Co-presented with the School of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

Professor Steiner is the recipient of the Australian Academy of Science 2014 Selby Fellowship.

Biological organisms have rather limited resources they can use to build the materials they are made of. Given these limitations the range of properties of natural materials is mind-boggling and in many instances not easily surpassed by man-made substitutes. One important aspect of many natural materials is their intricate structure, extending often from a few nanometers to macroscopic dimensions. In this lecture Professor Steiner will discuss some recent work that illustrate how we can learn from nature how to make structured materials and how to copy their properties, such as structure (as in mother of pearl), colour (butterfly wings), adhesive properties (gecko feet) and self-cleaning properties (lotus leaf).

Professor Ullrich Steiner

Professor Ullrich Steiner is the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of the Physics of Materials at the Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Physics of University of Cambridge. He is a fellow of St. Edmunds College, Cambridge and a fellow the Royal Society of Chemistry. In 2002, he was awarded the 2002 Raymond and Beverley Sackler Prize in the Physics Sciences. He is the current Chairman of the Editorial Board of the RSC journal “Soft Matter”. His areas of research include the physics of pattern formation on surfaces and in thin films, the properties of polymer in confinement, the synthesis of inorganic materials in self-assembled organic templates, the control of the nanometer morphologies in organic and dyes sensitised solar cells, and biomimetic formation of sub-micrometre morphologies. Ullrich Steiner studied physics at the University of Konstanz and at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He completed his Diploma in 1989 and his Doctorate in 1993 (Prof. Jacob Klein, Prof. Günter Schatz). After post-doctoral positions at the Weizmann Institute and at the Institut Charles Sadron, Strasbourg, her returned to the University of Konstanz for a group leader position in the Department of Physics. He received his habilitation in 1999, and became the Professor of Polymer Chemistry (chair) at the Department of Polymer Chemistry and Materials Science Centre of the University of Groningen. In 2004 he moved to his current position at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.

Academic contact: Dr Chiara Neto School of Chemistry, email

Introduction by Professor Trevor Hambley, Dean of Science at the University of Sydney. The lecture will be followed by a cocktail reception in the Level 1 Foyer.