This research focuses on stone tools and prehistory from a material science point of view. One of the theories behind flint formation postulates that flint was formed at the bottom of the sea - mainly composed remnant calcium carbonate shells of single cell microorganisms (e.g. coccolitophores) and siliceous skeletons (e.g. sponge spicules, diatoms and radiolarian) - by bacteria under anaerobic conditions. The bacteria under such conditions excrete HS- forming an acidic environment that dissolves the calcium carbonate and polymerizes silica into an entrapping gel. This anoxic environment also helps to preserve the organic material. Thus, our current working hypothesis is that bacteria are responsive to their environment in a specific biochemical ways and, thus, different flint formations will preserve different biochemical reactions from the time that flint was formed and thus this organic material is intrinsic and expected to serve as biolithic molecular proxies from which the flint provenience can be inferred as well as paleoclimate reconstruction dating back several millions years ago. We have developed new workflows to extract this organic material from the rocks without contamination with a micro to nanoprecision. The chemical information derived from this organic material is expected to have profound impact on paleoenvironments reconstruction, biogeology, exobiology and origin of life. When applied in the context of scientific archaeological research, i.e., to stone tools, it holds the potential to start infer migration patterns from hominins spanning from a couple of thousand years ago down to 1-2 million years ago (e.g. Homo erectus).
Biological fabrication&smart textiles
Dr. Michaela Eder and Prof. Peter Fratzl (Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Golm, Germany)
This research focuses on designing the next generation of smart textiles. Instead of using the classical surface functionalization of fibers that provide unusual functions to the fibers (e.g. antibacterial), we have explore the biochemical pathways of cellulose formation that in combination with molecular design (synthesis) have allowed the biological incorporation of these unusual molecules into the cellulose fibers (e.g. fluorescent, supermagnetic, superhydrophobic). We have started by implementing a sustainable cotton culture (hydroponic) and used in vitro cotton cultures as proof-of-concept. In the next steps, we aim to move from the ovule to the fruit and ultimately to the complete plant. We coined this approach as materials farming. This new approach allows a novel and unique sustainable conversion of raw materials into multifunctional and innovative materials and rethinking of our current fabrication strategies.