As part of a research team based at RMIT led by Professor Elena Ivanova, Dr. Vi Khanh Truong has been investigating the antifungal properties of nanostructured surfaces such as dragonfly and damselfly wings, and how these topographies might be translated to industrial relevant surfaces. Interest in this novel area of research is largely in response to issues surrounding the colonisation of fungi on coated surfaces. Specifically, the fungal surface attachment represents a pervasive, and importantly, aesthetic issue affecting the utility of many commonly used building surfaces.

Presently, antifungal agents are incorporated into the outer coatings of such materials to prevent unwanted fungal colonisation. However, this approach has some drawbacks as the surfaces will inevitably lose their antifungal activity over time, meaning that their activity will diminish. Recent research has extensively shown that the purposeful micro- and nano-structuring of a material surface can both control and limit microbial colonisation. This research is inspired by natural surfaces such as insect wings (e.g. dragonfly, cicada, damselfly), due to their inherent antibacterial and self-cleaning properties.

During his time in the Steel Research Hub, and in collaboration with Australian Synchrotron personnel, Khanh utilised high-resolution, synchrotron-sourced ATR-IR micro-spectroscopy methodologies to map the chemical distribution within dragonfly and damselfly wings, so as to facilitate biomimetic replication.

Additionally, state-of-art techniques such as time-lapsed confocal laser scanning microscopy and cryo-scanning electron microscopy to investigate model lipid membranes at the insect wing interface were established by the RMIT team. Here, it was possible to capture the precise moment that the fragile lipid membranes interacted with the nanostructures. Additionally, the RMIT team together with the Australian Synchrotron, Bio21 and Monash University are investigating fungal colonisation of dragonflys’ and damselfly’s wings.  

Towards the end of his time in the Steel Research Hub, Khanh was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship and RMIT Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. He will now focus on developing stimuli-responsive liquid metal-based system for next-generation biofilm treatments. During this fellowship, Khanh will work directly under an eminent scientist in this field, Prof. Michael Dickey (North Carolina State University). This unique training will provide Khanh the opportunity to develop new and innovative materials for the prevention of both bacterial and fungal contaminations. The fellowships should provide him the opportunity to establish a research team and progress an academic career.