Modulating the Mechanical Performance of Macroscale Fibers through Shear-Induced Alignment and Assembly of Protein Nanofibrils

Ayaka Kamada, Aviad Levin, Zenon Toprakcioglu, Yi Shen, Viviane Lutz-Bueno, Kevin N. Baumann, Pezhman Mohammadi, Markus B. Linder, Raffaele Mezzenga, Tuomas P.J. Knowles (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Protein-based fibers are used by nature as high-performance materials in a wide range of applications, including providing structural support, creating thermal insulation, and generating underwater adhesives. Such fibers are commonly generated through a hierarchical self-assembly process, where the molecular building blocks are geometrically confined and aligned along the fiber axis to provide a high level of structural robustness. Here, this approach is mimicked by using a microfluidic spinning method to enable precise control over multiscale order during the assembly process of nanoscale protein nanofibrils into micro- and macroscale fibers. By varying the flow rates on chip, the degree of nanofibril alignment can be tuned, leading to an orientation index comparable to that of native silk. It is found that the Young's modulus of the resulting fibers increases with an increasing level of nanoscale alignment of the building blocks, suggesting that the mechanical properties of macroscopic fibers can be controlled through varying the level of ordering of the nanoscale building blocks. Capitalizing on strategies evolved by nature, the fabrication method allows for the controlled formation of macroscopic fibers and offers the potential to be applied for the generation of further novel bioinspired materials.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1904190
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


The research leading to these results received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) through the ERC grant PhysProt (Agreement No. 337969), the BBSRC, the Frances and Augustus Newman Foundation, the Welcome Trust, and the Cambridge Centre for Misfolding Diseases. The authors are also thankful to the FEBS Long-Term fellowship and the Oppenheimer Early Career Fellowship (A.L.). The work was also supported by the Academy of Finland through its Centres of Excellence Programme (2014–2019).


  • bioinspired materials
  • mechanical properties
  • microfluidic spinning
  • protein nanofibrils
  • structural orientation


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