Biomedical engineers are used to applying engineering principles to solve problems in biology and medicine. As a biomedical engineer by training, I find it interesting that the converse is also true — the world of biology can be a source of inspiration for engineering designs. In the last few decades, micro/nano-scale structures, discovered on the surfaces of plants and animals, have been found to confer multiple and inherent surface functionalities. Examples range from the lotus leaf to the moth’s eye. The lotus leaf is resistant to both water and dirt due to the randomly distributed micron-sized bumps, covered by branch-like nanostructures, on its surface. The surface topography of the moth’s compound eye, consisting of arrays of microsized lenses called ommatidia that are further patterned with dome-shaped nanostructures, give rise to anti-reflective and anti-fogging properties.
Our team at the A*STAR Nanoimprint Foundry has fabricated numerous bioinspired micro- and nano-scale topographical features on thin films via nanoimprint technologies. Surface properties that have been achieved include anti-reflection, anti-fogging, water pinning, superhydrophobicity, superhydrophilicity, and biofilm-reducing.
Engineering functionalities through surface structuring is a highly attractive approach as it does not require the use of chemicals and offers a durable and environmentally friendly solution. Besides nanoimprinting on thin films, we have recently come up with an elegant solution to incorporate micro/nano structures on the surfaces of free-form three-dimensional (3D) everyday products via nanoinjection molding. Our nanoinjection molding technique integrates inserts with micro/nano-scale features into existing injection molding processes, enabling easy adoption at minimal additional cost. Using this novel technology, we have successfully produced lenses that possess anti-fog, anti-UV and anti-reflective properties. It has been gratifying for me to witness firsthand the translation of research work that has been incubated right here in A*STAR into real life products. Moving forward, our team is very excited about utilizing nanoinjection molding to translate various surface functionalities previously developed on thin films onto everyday 3D objects — something never thought possible!
Our work at the A*STAR Nanoimprint Foundry goes beyond the four walls of the laboratory. In my short 7 month stint here, I have interacted with several companies and co-organized a nanomanufacturing roundtable (industry outreach) event to engage local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and multinational corporations (MNCs) with our technologies. Working with industry at the forefront of advancing manufacturing capabilities in Singapore instills a strong sense of purpose in my colleagues and I. I am very blessed to be given the opportunity to pursue my scientific interests and to play a role in helping our local enterprises stay globally competitive. Given my stimulating and rewarding experience so far, I expect nothing short of a fulfilling career with A*STAR.