5M£ EPSRC "Frontier Engineering Award" for UCL Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering

8 April 2013

The EPSRC has awarded 5M£ toward the establishment of a Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering at UCL. The Centre will be directed by Prof. Marc-Olivier Coppens, Ramsay Memorial Professor and Head of Chemical Engineering at UCL.

The EPSRC grant is one of 5 founding "Frontier Engineering Awards", announced by Rt Hon David Willetts, UK's Minister for Universities and Science, at the first Global Grand Challenges Summit in London ( 

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

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. 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 with mechanisms in place to engage researchers across the UK and internationally in collaborative projects. 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. 

Apart from Prof. Marc-Olivier Coppens (Director), from Chemical Engineering Prof. Asterios Gavriliidis will be leading one of the core themes, Dr. Paola Lettieri will be leading efforts on Life Cycle Analysis, and Dr. Dan Brett will be leading the Pathways to Impact. Research in the Centre will leverage ongoing and new activities in reaction and catalysis engineering, multiphase flow, process systems engineering, thermodynamics and materials – and, as such, involve staff across the Department.

Core members from other UCL Engineering Departments include Prof. Anthony Finkelstein (Dean of Engineering Sciences, Computer Science), Prof. Mark Miodownik (Mechanical Engineering, and Director Institute of Making), Prof. Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Dr. Dan Bracewell and Prof. John Ward (Biochemical Engineering), Prof. Richard Catlow (Chemistry and Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences), Prof. Paul McMillan, Dr. Gopinathan Sankar (Chemistry), Prof. Alan Penn and Dr. Sean Hanna (Bartlett/Architecture), Prof. Philip Treleaven (Computer Science, Financial Computing), and Prof. Andrew Pomiankowski (Genetics, Evolution and Environment). Our high-performance data flow computing efforts will be supported by Dr. Oskar Mencer (Maxeler Technologies)

By spurring entrepreneurship, and collaboration with a wide range of industrial partners allows the Centre to accelerate the translation of research findings into practice. Several companies, from SMEs to established multinationals have already joined EPSRC in their support for the Centre (in alphabetical order: Aedas, AFC Energy, AstraZeneca, BIOeCON/Antecy, ExxonMobil, GE, GSK, Harris, JohnsonMatthey, Laing O'Rourke, MATGAS/AirProducts, Maxeler Technologies, PSRI, Quantachrome, SABIC, Shell, Synfuels China).

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