BioSmartTrainee: Controlling adhesion in wet conditions

The H2020 Innovative Training Network BioSmartTrainee
BioSmartTrainee team picture (MTM meeting in Paris 2017)

The H2020 Innovative Training Network BioSmartTrainee educates a new generation of professionals in the field of smart adhesive materials.

Adhesion in wet environments is a formidable challenge in adhesive and coatings technology as well as medicine in the fields of orthopedics, tissue adhesives, and wound dressings. Despite the great progress achieved so far, most of man-made adhesives deteriorate and ultimately fail in watery environments, because the performance of most adhesives is compromised by the presence of water, which eventually leads to bond failure.

On the contrary, certain aquatic animals like mussels, sandcastle worms, and freshwater caddisfly larvae have long overcome this challenge through millions of years of evolution. These organisms show impressive underwater adhesion performance and, therefore, provide a source of inspiration for the development of new functional adhesive materials.

Objectives of the biosmarttrainee project

The BioSmartTrainee research project aims at the development of bio-inspired strategies to control adhesion under wet conditions to get deeper insights in the mechanisms of adhesion in wet environments and bridge the gap between the fundamentals of wet adhesives and their practice. To achieve cross-domain synergies and facilitate learning across different domains, our team bridges together a unique expertise from academic and industrial research groups working in the field of underwater adhesion, spanning theoretical and experimental approaches in polymer chemistry and physical chemistry, adhesion mechanics and biology.

The overarching objective of our interdisciplinary project is to provide a new generation of 11 highly skilled early-stage researchers with the necessary interdisciplinary knowledge and experience in the field of adhesion in wet conditions, much needed throughout Europe. This allows them to address major scientific and technological challenges and will push this research forward towards application.

BioSmartTrainee is precisely set up to provide such training by a combination of three complementary scientific fields: polymer science, adhesion and (fluid)-biomechanics. The following general research objectives interconnected in scientific work packages (WPs) are:

  • Extracting principles from biological systems and mimic them to design synthetic polymeric materials (WP1: Polymer Science),
  • Experimentally testing their adhesion to model and rough or fouled surfaces in wet conditions (WP2: Adhesion),
  • Clarifying the adhesion mechanisms based on quantitative experiments and theoretical modelling (WP3: (Fluid)biomechanics).

BioSmartTrainee is a consortium of 10 leading European academic and industrial partners

  • Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden e.V. (IPF), Dresden, Germany,
  • Wageningen University (WU), Wageningen, The Netherlands,
  • Regie Ecole supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielle (CNRS-ESPCI), Paris, France,
  • Leibniz-Institut für Neue Materialien gGmbH (INM), Saarbrücken, Germany,
  • BASF SE Ludwigshafen, Germany,
  • University of Cambridge (CAM), United Kingdom,
  • Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), The Netherlands,
  • University of Patras (UPATRAS), Greece,
  • Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, Slough, United Kingdom,
  • Urgo Recherche Innovation et Développement, Chenove CEDEX, France,


To tackle the challenges and accomplish our objectives successfully, we have close interactions between work packages. Our research program provides a framework to share experimental and theoretical results and, most important, feedback loops between the partners. In work package 1, we focus on the development of strategies and bio-inspired design of synthetic polymeric materials responsive to a particular trigger (such as temperature, Ph, ionic strength and UV light including thin polymer brushes, hydrogel).

Whereas in work package 2, we are focused on the development of robust and reproducible methods to characterize adhesion in air and under water as well as on the analytical tools needed to interpret the results. We have developed two new techniques of measurement based on a contact method. One is designed to work for adhesive contacts and relatively weak adhesion cases but strong cohesion (where the failure mode is typically interfacial), while the other is designed to work with viscoelastic adhesives capable of dissipating large amounts of energy in their bulk. In addition, an interesting new methodology and experimental setup to measure switchable adhesion under an electric field between soft and rough surfaces was developed. The key materials have all been synthesized by the BioSmartTrainee dynamic and productive young researchers and excellent results on adhesive properties have been reported.

In work package 3, we are focused on the upérieure ation of natural adhesives under wet conditions, on the development of computational tools capable of describing the fluid mechanics of adhesion on wet surface, as well as atomistic molecular dynamics simulations to study the structural and dynamical properties of responsive and adaptive polymers.

The obtained new knowledge within BioSmartTrainee based on mutual exchange of this unique set of expertise by our interdisciplinary research training programme, will have a strong input in the controlled design of mature underwater adhesives. Advancing this field will certainly have a profound industrial and technological impact that spans from medicine, coating technologies, and materials for construction to additive manufacturing.

Priv-Doz Dr habil Alla Synytska

Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden e.V.

+49 (0)351 4658 475

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