Van der Waals-Zeeman Colloquium

Thursday, 16 Jun 2009, 16:00h

Soft Biological Matter: Function through Structure

Dr. Kees Storm
TU Eindhoven

Biological materials possess some of the most remarkable mechanical properties. Cells and tissues can adjust, remodel, stiffen, soften, in some cases even pack up and leave when circumstances require action. Surprisingly, most systems that exhibit this stunningly complex response, such as the cytoskeleton inside cells and the extracellular matrix, share a common design: under a microscope, they are crosslinked networks of biological polymers. Even more surprisingly, many of the in vivo behaviors can be reproduced in vitro in reconstituted proteinaceous polymer gels. Many of these systems, most notably collagen, play a purely structural role in living organisms. In other words, their function is their mechanical response. Biopolymer networks are therefore particularly suited to begin to understand the complex relationship between structural design and functionality in living systems.

In this talk, I will discuss our efforts to bridge the gap from microscopic structure to macroscopic mechanical response of such systems. I will highlight the key roles of single filament properties, crosslinker properties, network architecture and the geometry of deformations, and will discuss implications and possibilities for biomimetic synthetics.