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Welcome to SPP1420

The aim of the Priority Programme 1420 "Biomimetic Materials Research: Functionality by Hierarchical Structuring of Materials" is to explore the possibility of generating new material classes of great potential by combining the degrees of freedom of hierarchical structuring inspired by nature with the variety of materials offered by engineering. The goal of this biomimetic approach is to obtain new or unusual combinations of material functions and properties. This shall be achieved by structuring a given material, rather than by changing its chemical composition ("function by structure"). The long-term vision of the programme is to fill "white spots" in material property charts by hierarchically structured materials, and to obtain the function-form-relationship in organs or plant bodies with predominantly mechanical function to improve the understanding of living systems.

There is no restriction on the choice of constituent materials, as long as the principle of hierarchical structuring over at least two levels is followed. Typically, (at least) one of the material properties is mechanical; the other one may be also mechanical or acoustical, electrical, optical or thermal, to name but a few options, and the hierarchical structure is crucial in obtaining this property combination. Passive mechanical properties (such as stiffness, strength, toughness, etc.) are considered as well as active properties connected to actuation or motility.

A variety of challenges are being addressed. First, it is necessary to study some natural materials as examples on how hierarchical structuring is used by nature to achieve unusual property combinations. Furthermore, theoretical and experimental tools of materials science need to be developed to address the issue of hierarchy. New approaches for synthesis of hierarchical materials and demonstrators have to be developed. The scope of the programme is thus divided into three focus areas:

  • characterisation of natural hierarchical materials as a kind of "idea park",
  • development of principles to design, simulate and manufacture hierarchical materials with property-relevant structural features,
  • development of manufacturing technologies for materials solutions based on hierarchical structures.


Education and training of young scientists is a major requirement for the success of the programme and special measures are planned, such as

  • An academy for young scientists with additional mentoring on career planning (“Nachwuchsakademie”) in collaboration with BIOKON
  • Exchange visits of young scientists to other groups in the SPP (roughly following the model of the “short-term missions” in COST programmes)
  • A Young investigator award
  • Organisation of annual dedicated symposia (with varying special focus)
  • Three grants for a one-year, high-risk project submitted by a young investigator
  • Biennial review colloquia


This programme is coordinated by an interdisciplinary Programme Committee of well-known scientists, chaired by Peter Fratzl (Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam, Germany). The first call was published in July 2008 and a review colloquium took place in December 2008. The programme was started in May 2009 with 13 projects (most of them with two or more applicants) granted for two years. A second call in 2011 expended the SPP to 15 projects. After the third review colloquium in May 2013, the last phase of the programme just started.There is also an associated project and three starter-grant-projects emerged from the "young academy" related to the SPP1420.