EPSRC announces new UCL Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering

12 March 2013

Earth - Global Elevation Model with Satellite Imagery courtesy of Kevin M Gill on flickr Innovative engineering projects announced today, including a new Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering at UCL, will bring leading engineers and scientists together to address some of the major engineering challenges facing the world.

Funding for the projects will be announced by the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, at the first Global Grand Challenges Summit in London.

The event is organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), the US National Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering and is proudly supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and other partners.

Five Frontier Engineering projects will receive £25 million in total, the successful applicants cover a range of topics that align with the themes of the Global Grand Challenges Summit.

One of the five Frontier projects, the UCL Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering, will draw lessons from nature to engineer innovative solutions to our grand challenges in energy, water, materials, health, and living space.

Evolution over the eons has made Nature a treasure trove of clever solutions to sustainability, resilience, and ways to efficiently utilise scarce resources.

Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens, Ramsey Memorial Professor and Head of UCL Chemical Engineering will be the Director of the new Centre. He said:

“Rather than imitating nature out of context or succumbing to superficial analogies, research at the Centre will take a decidedly scientific approach to uncover the fundamental mechanisms behind desirable traits, and apply these to designing and synthesising artificial systems that borrow the traits of the natural model.”

A fractal gas injector design inspired by the scaling of tree branches

An example of nature-inspired design: a fractal gas injector design inspired by the scaling of tree branches

These systems – desalination membranes, fuel cells, catalysts, adaptive materials, or built environments – thus gain the same desirable characteristics as their models in nature – cell membranes, lungs, trees and bacterial communities – with the associated extraordinary performance, such as scalability, robustness, and material and energy efficiency.

Based at UCL, the Centre aims to be a world-leading, national resource that welcomes broad UK and international participation. Using theory and simulation assisted rational design, complemented by experiments, synthesis and testing, the Centre unites a highly interdisciplinary team of researchers. Contributions may come from genetics, computer science, chemical and materials engineering, architecture and beyond. Collaborations with a wide range of industrial partners allow us to accelerate the translation of research findings into practice.

The Centre will have three theme leaders: Asterios Gavriilidis, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Professor and Head of Department of Biochemical Engineering and Mark Miodownik, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director, Institute of Making.

Mr Willetts said:

“Over the last two centuries engineering innovations have transformed lives, but we still face global challenges like tackling climate change, improving healthcare and meeting basic needs, like access to clean water. This significant investment recognises the vital role that the UK research base can have in providing solutions to these challenges.”


/Earth image by Kevin M Gill on Flickr, made available using a Creative Commons license.

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