Vision of the Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering

Evolution over the eons has made nature a treasure trove of clever solutions to sustainability, resilience, and ways to efficiently utilise scarce resources. The Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering at  UCL draws lessons from nature to engineer innovative solutions to our grand challenges in energy, water, materials, health, and living space.

Rather than imitating nature out of context or succumbing to superficial analogies, research at the Centre is taking a decidedly scientific approach to uncover fundamental mechanisms underlying desirable traits, and apply these mechanisms to design and synthesise artificial systems that hereby borrow the traits of the natural model.

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

Research in the Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering is initially focused around three themes, corresponding to three fundamental mechanisms, which it sees as most timely for exploration: (T1) hierarchical transport networks, (T2) force balancing and (T3) dynamic self-organisation.

Nucleated by the Nature Inspired Chemical Engineering (NICE) group at UCL and directed by Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens, the Centre received a £5M "Frontier Engineering" Award from the EPSRC, one of only five such Awards in the UK, as announced at the Global Grand Challenges summit at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London in March 2013.

Using theory- and simulation-assisted rational design, complemented by experiments, synthesis and testing, the Centre unites a highly interdisciplinary team of researchers, from genetics and computer science to chemical and materials engineering, and architecture. Collaborations with a wide range of industrial partners allow us to accelerate the translation of research findings into practice.