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Theses Doctoral

Biological and Bioinspired Photonic Materials for Passive Radiative Cooling and Waveguiding

Shi, Norman Nan

Animals have evolved diverse strategies to control solar and thermal radiations so that they can better adapt to their natural habitats. Structured materials utilized by these animals to control electromagnetic waves often surpass analogous man-made optical materials in both sophistication and efficiency. Understanding the physical mechanism behind these structured materials of nature inspires one to create novel materials and technologies.
Our optical and thermodynamic measurements of insects (Saharan silver ants and cocoons of the Madagascar comet moth) living in harsh thermal environments showed their unique ability to simultaneously enhance solar reflectivity and thermal emissivity, and to maintain a cool body temperature.
Saharan silver ants, Cataglyphis bombycina, forage on the desert surface during the middle of the day. The ants’ conspicuous silvery glance is caused by a coating of hairs with unique triangular cross-sections. The hair coating enhances not only the reflectivity of the ant’s body surface in the visible and near-infrared range of the spectrum, where solar radiation culminates, but also the emissivity of the ant in the mid-infrared. The latter effect enables the animals to efficiently dissipate heat back to the surroundings via blackbody radiation under full daylight conditions.
The fibers produced by the wild comet moth, Argema mittrei, are populated with a high density of air voids that have a random distribution in the fiber cross-section but are invariant along the fiber. These filamentary air voids strongly back-scatter light in the solar spectrum, which, in combination with the fibers’ intrinsic high emissivity in the mid-infrared, enables the cocoon to function as an efficient radiative-cooling device, preventing the pupa inside from overheating.
The reduced dimensionality of the random voids leads to strong optical scattering in the transverse direction of the cocoon fibers. This enables tightly confined optical modes to propagate along the fibers via transverse Anderson localization. We made the first observation of transverse Anderson localization in a natural fiber and further demonstrated light focusing and image transport in the fibers. This discovery opens up the possibility to use wild silk fibers as a biocompatible and bioresorbable material for transporting optical signals and images.
Drawing inspirations from these discoveries, we designed and developed high-throughput fabrication processes to create coatings and fibers with passive radiative-cooling properties. The radiative-cooling coatings consist of various nanoparticles imbedded within a silicone thin film. The sizes and materials of the nanoparticles were chosen to provide simultaneously high solar reflectivity and thermal emissivity. The coating has been implemented in two site studies on real roofs and has demonstrated reduced roof temperature by up to 30oC in the summer and associated reduction of electricity usage by up to 30%. We also made biomimetic fibers from regenerated silk fibroin and a thermoplastic using wet spinning. Spectroscopic measurements showed that these man-made fibers exhibit exceptional optical properties for radiative-cooling applications.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Materials Science and Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Yu, Nanfang
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 15, 2018