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SMSE Prof. Di Zhang’s Team Won the Second Prize of the National Natural Science Award in 2020

NOV 3,2021   

At the National Science and Technology Award Conference 2020 held in Beijing on 3 November 2021, SJTU Prof. Di Zhang and his team won the second prize of the National Natural Science Award in 2020 for their project on "Morphology Genetic Materials Templated from Nature Species".

The excellent performance of materials depends on their compositions, microstructure, and architecture. It is a trend and challenge for the development of materials science to significantly improve the overall performance of materials by designing and regulating the architecture of materials, without changing their compositions. The hierarchical, delicate  architectures evolved over billions of years by natural organisms have resulted in astonishingly excellent properties, showing the characteristics of "simple compositions, same constituents but different architectures, delicate architectures and excellent properties". Although mankind has improved the performance of materials by artificially mimicking biological architectures, and has made important achievements and progress. The existing fabrication principles and technologies of material are still difficult to accurately reproduce the fine architectures of natural  materials, thus hindering the study of the coupling effects and mechanisms of biological fine architectures and artificial materials. In response to this key challenge, Prof. Di Zhang and his team have innovatively proposed a new academic idea of selecting and borrowing the natural biological fine architecture to create a new type of materials with the characteristics of natural biological fine architecture and artificial material through the compositing of architecture and material - "Morphology Genetic Material". It provides a new paradigm for the design, preparation, and application of new composites.

After nearly two decades of research, Prof. Di Zhang and his team have selected three major categories of insects (e.g. three-dimensional hierarchical light response architectures of butterfly wings), plants (e.g. light and matter transport architectures of aquatic and terrestrial plants), and microorganisms (complex polymorphic architectures), with more than 50 natural biological fine architectures as typical research objects, and systematically conducted scientific research on the design and preparation of morphology genetic materials. They discovered new phenomena of coupling biological fine architectures with artificial materials, and revealed their structure-property relation, demonstrating and verifying the validity and universality of this academic idea and method.

Prof. Di Zhang and his team published the first international monograph in the field, 《Morphology Genetic Materials Templated from Nature Species》, which was reviewed by Springer publisher: "This is the first monograph to study this highly promising class of materials - morphology genetic materials”. They were invited to write the first full-length review paper in the field in Prog. Mater. Sci. Eight papers have been published in Adv. Mater. and ACS Nano, with over a thousand other citations. The academic ideas and research paradigms of this project have been validated and adopted by hundreds of research teams in dozens of countries, including the US, Germany, and Japan. Moreover, their research has been highly evaluated by internationally renowned scientists. Prof. C. Sanchez, an academician of both French Academy of Engineering and Academy of Sciences, commented that "this strategy is very close to the ultimate dream of learning from nature". Prof. Zhonglin Wang, a foreign academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, described the work as "one of the most exciting advances in recent times ......" and also commented that "This work explores a truly multidisciplinary approach that integrates the strengths of physics, chemistry, materials science and biology". Professor S. Iijima, an academician of the Chinese/US/Japanese Academy of Sciences and the discoverer of carbon nanotubes, described the discovery as "even more exciting". Prof. Andrew Parker of the University of Oxford and Head of Zoology at the Natural History Museum in London commented: "I think it is very original and they are working on applying the complex three-dimensional structure of the butterfly wing structure to applied research".

《Morphology Genetic Materials Templated from Nature Species

The research results have been typically reviewed over a hundred times by Nature, Nature Nanotechnology, NewScientist, Discovery Channel, and others, with Nature (2011, 476, 9) commenting that: "...as butterflies and moths have 175,000 species to select from, the method could help material scientists build a complete treasure trove of three-dimensional structures at the sub-micron level...". The results, which are both universal and close to nature, were featured in the 《Encyclopedia of Nanotechnology》, edited by Prof. B. Bharat of The Ohio State University, USA; It has also been featured in the "Amazing Nature Book", an extra-curricular science book published by the Japan PHP Research Institute for all Japanese primary school students in 2011. Besides, the internationally renowned Discovery Channel has interviewed them and broadcast to the world how they learned from nature to create optical functional materials and devices in the butterfly wing architecture. 

Discovery Channel produced feature film

This work guided the research field of design and preparation of new architectured composite materials and promoted the development of interdisciplinary and related fields. The fundamental research results support the applied research, and the metal and metal oxide morphology genetic materials adhering to the butterfly wing architecture have been verified in the fields of photothermal seawater desalination, satellite thermal control, equipment stealth, and supercapacitor, showing great application prospects. 

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