NBIK19001U  Biomaterials: Molecular Structure and Properties

Volume 2019/2020

Biomaterials such as cellulosic plant fibres and spider silk exhibit unique properties in terms of strength and flexibility. While some biomaterials like wood and hemp fibres are already widely used in our society, others such as biocomposites and bioplastics are on their way to grow new biotech industries. This course approaches the properties of biomaterials from a fundamental materials science perspective. It enables an understanding of how material structure and chemistry plays an important role in for instance fungal biodegradation of materials, biorefining, enzyme-biomaterial interactions, and a myriad of other biomimetic concepts. Biomaterials properties are explained by analysis of the material structure at the molecular level and the inherent properties of the molecular components, e.g. the individual biopolymers as well as the composite materials they form in Nature or in man-made biomaterials. The aim of the course is to obtain a fundamental understanding of how the structure of biopolymers and other materials relate to their properties, commonly known as structure-property relationships. Basic concepts of surfaces, wetting, adhesion, composites, molecular weight distributions, glass transition temperature and other basic, but very important polymer concepts will be covered. All these will be applied to understand biomaterial properties and how water within the biomaterial structure affects these properties. Furthermore, diverse biomaterials will be discussed, especially related to interesting biomimetic/biomimicry concepts.


The course covers the following subjects:


  • A general introduction of biomaterials with examples
  • Brief summary of van der Waals and bonding concepts


  • Introduction to polymers
  • Mechanical properties of polymers (elasticity, strength, viscoelasticity)
  • What is the glass transition temperature (Tg)? 
  • How do chemical structure and morphology influences Tg and properties? 
  • Structure-property relationships in polymers
  • Important biopolymers

Water in biomaterials:

  • Water sorption and moisture content
  • Moisture transport
  • Effects of water on biopolymer properties

Surfaces and adhesion: 

  • Surface properties and wetting
  • Adhesion mechanisms

Basic concepts of composites


Plant-based biomaterials: 

  • Wood material structure and properties
  • Plant fibre (e.g. sisal, coir, jute) material structure and properties
  • Chemically modified plant materials

Animal-based biomaterials:

  • Introduction to diverse materials such as spider webs, wool, seashells, fish scales, bones, mussels, barnacles

Man-made biocomposites and bioplastics

Learning Outcome

After the course students will be able to

- define basic polymer concepts such as molecular weight, glass transition temperature.
- define fundamental mechanical properties such as elasticity, strength, viscoelasticity
- describe general principles of the relation between material properties and molecular structure
- describe how and where water is present within biomaterials as a function of the surrounding environmental conditions
- describe how the material properties affect biotechnological processes such as enzymatic or microbial attack  
- describe basic concepts for characterisation of mechanical properties of biomaterials
- explain how properties of biomaterials such as their relationship to water and their mechanical properties are related to their structure
- describe biotechnological approaches to degradation, modification, and production of biomaterials

- apply theory from the course to analyse the molecular structure of a biomaterial and from this estimate approximate biomaterial properties

- discuss and predict likely biomaterial properties based on their molecular structure

See Absalon for a list of course literature.

Knowledge of basic undergraduate chemistry, biochemistry, and biotechnology, e.g. courses “General chemistry for life sciences” and “Organic chemistry for life sciences” or similar.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.
The course will include various teaching methods: dialogue-based teaching, lectures, research-based teaching, short scientific reports and class discussions. During the course the students will make short scientific reports based on the lecture contents and the course literature and these will be discussed in class.
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Oral examination, 20 minutes
The written assignment is prepared during the course and must be handed in prior to the exam week. The oral exam uses the written assignment as its point of departure. It includes the titles listed in the official reading list. An overall assessment is given after the oral exam.
Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners.

Resubmission of written assignment followed by 20 minutes oral examination. Deadline for the written assignment is one week prior to the re-exam.

The oral exam uses the written assignment as its point of departure. It includes the titles listed in the official reading list. An overall assessment is given after the oral exam.

Criteria for exam assesment

See Learning Outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 32
  • Project work
  • 32
  • Guidance
  • 13
  • Class Instruction
  • 32
  • Preparation
  • 96
  • Exam
  • 1
  • Total
  • 206