Of the composite materials occurring in nature, the plant cell wall is among the most intricate, consisting of a complex arrangement of semicrystalline cellulose microfibrils in a dissipative matrix of lignin and hemicelluloses. Here, a biomimetic, two-dimensional cellulose system of the cell wall structure is introduced where cellulose nanocrystals compose the crystalline portion and regenerated amorphous cellulose composes the dissipative matrix. Spectroscopic ellipsometry and QCM-D are used to study the water vapor uptake of several two-layer systems. Quantitative analysis shows that the vapor-induced swelling of these ultrathin films can be controlled by varying ratios of the chemically identical ordered and unordered cellulose components. Intriguingly, increasing the share of crystalline cellulose appeared to increase the vapor uptake but only in cases for which the interfacial area between the crystalline and amorphous area was relatively large and the thickness of an amorphous overlayer was relatively small. The results show that a biomimetic approach may occasionally provide answers as to why certain native structures exist.
Niinivaara, E., Faustini, M., Tammelin, T., & Kontturi, E. (2016). Mimicking the humidity response of the plant cell wall by using two-dimensional systems: The critical role of amorphous and crystalline polysaccharides. Langmuir, 32(8), 2032-2040. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.langmuir.5b04264