UCL Department of Chemical Engineering


The CNIE concludes a month of successful events on Nature-Inspired Engineering

30 September 2019

ECI Conference 2019 Group Photo

Following several local outreach events at UCL for underrepresented groups in Summer, the UCL Centre for Nature-Inspired Engineering (CNIE) has engaged in a range of impactful events on the international stage throughout September that illustrate the growing impact of its ground-breaking research and unique methodology to attack our toughest challenges.

To progress the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UK’s Industrial Strategy, responsible innovation is essential and UCL’s Grand Challenge on Transformative Technology recognises this. The systematic Nature-Inspired Solutions for Engineering (NISE) methodology developed in the CNIE at UCL - together with its academic and industrial partners - is emerging as a compelling pathway to develop such transformative technology.  

Broadening research in Nature-Inspired Chemical Engineering (NICE), the NISE methodology uses the fundamental underpinning for desirable properties in natural systems (efficiency, resilience and scalability) to develop solutions that are applicable within the context of technology for society. The CNIE has been key in launching a UK Knowledge Transfer Network on Nature-Inspired Solutions, kicked off in July. In September, the CNIE organised the 1st ECI Conference on Nature-Inspired Engineering bringing together some of the world’s leading experts from biomedicine to greenhouse gas control, functional materials and robotics. It then showcased its work at the UK/US/China Engineering Academies’ Grand Challenges Summit and summarised the centre’s vision in a “Voices” column in the first issue of the prestigious Cell Press’s “One Earth” journal.

The success of these events demonstrates the growing appreciation of nature-inspired engineering as an enabling methodology for innovation – and for hope in times where humanity faces some of its most daunting challenges. Industry is taking note as well, sponsoring several new projects that, in conjunction with EPSRC’s “Frontier Engineering” grant, support research on fundamental questions and training of individuals, as the CNIE is increasingly known as a place where diversity and integration thrive, promoting innovation via its unique methodology.

Below is a summary of some of the activities that have taken place:

Johnson Matthey’s “Reaction and Transport Expertise” Symposium

Head of Department of Chemical Engineering and Director, EPSRC "Frontier Engineering" Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering (CNIE), Prof Marc-Olivier Coppens was invited to give a talk at the 3rd edition of the Reaction and Transport Expertise Symposium (RaTES), held on 3 September.

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The talk that opened the event was on “A NICE Way to Re-Design Catalytic Materials and Processes”. The meeting covered a wide range of topics on the interaction of reaction and transport phenomena, from experimental to modelling studies of reaction (micro) kinetics and diffusion. The understanding of these processes is key to elucidate the link between mechanism and catalytic performance in all the areas relevant to Johnson Matthey: automotive and process catalysis, battery materials, fuel cells, health and beyond

ECI-NIE Conference – 8-13 September, Grand Hotel San Michele, Cetraro, Calabria, Italy

Marc-Olivier Coppens delivers ECI workshop on: How to use Nature-Inspired Engineering to solve problems in practice

Marc-Olivier Coppens chaired the ECI-NIE conference, with co-chair Bharat Bhushan (OSU), welcoming world-leading practitioners and researchers from academia, national laboratories and industry to the conference with an interest in nature-inspired solutions for engineering. 

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Over an agenda packed week, attendees had the opportunity to take part in an array of talks, poster presentations, panel discussions facilitated by Monika Dunkel (Knowledge Transfer Network, lead on Nature-Inspired Solutions Special Interest Group) and an engaging workshop led by Prof Coppens on: How to use Nature-Inspired Engineering to solve problems in practice.

The conference included inspiring keynote speeches by:

Covering application areas that include:

  • Scalable Manufacturing & Process Intensification
  • Built Environment: Construction, Architecture & Urban Design
  • Functional Materials
  • Biomedical & Healthcare Engineering
  • Energy & Environmental Technology
  • Robotics and Other Applications

The conference ended with delegates pledging to work together in the future, forming partnerships, sharing of ideas on how they can collaborate in research and a sense that working in broadly cross-disciplinary teams, underpinned by a design methodology that borrows lessons from nature, is a driver towards innovative solutions to solve challenging problems. With the success of the first ever CNIE conference, no doubt we will build on this for future ones.

Watch highlighted memories of the ECI-NIE Conference below:

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://youtu.be/LLtx-iWu6Hc


Global Grand Challenges Summit 2019

Global Grand Challenges Summit 2019

Following the ECI NIE conference, CNIE had the opportunity to showcase its research at the Royal Academy of Engineering Global Grand Challenges Summit 2019, which took place on 16-18 September 2019.

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This was the launch of a second series of summits jointly hosted by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, the US National Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, inspired by the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering. As a part of EPSRC’s evening exhibition event entitled EPSRC Engineering Research for Grand Challenges, CNIE researchers showcased a selection of that over £50 million investment into research aiming to tackle the grand challenges facing our future. Visit the CNIE website to find out more about the exhibition. 

Nina Jotanovic showcases work at the Biodesign Here Now exhibition

Biodesign research by Nina Jotanovic

PhD student Nina Jotanovic showcased her work at the Biodesign Here Now exhibition from the 19-21 September 2019. The exhibition was curated and organised by Open Cell, the first public research centre for consumer-facing biotechnology and bio-designers.

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Nina's research is in collaboration with CNIE, Bartlett school of Architecture at UCL and the Bio-Inspired Photonics Lab (BIP) at the Chemistry Department, University of Cambridge.

The team involved in this research are as follows:

For more information, visit the CNIE website

Other PhD research news

PhD students Mohammad Alkhunaizi and Haiyue Yu presented their posters at the Diffusion Fundamentals VIII” which took place in Erlangen, Germany from 1-5 September 2019. Find out more on the CNIE website

One Earth Voices “Vision for a Positive Future”

CNIE Themes

Prof Coppens was also invited to contribute to an opinion piece in the first edition of One Earth Voices “Visions for a Positive Future”. 

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The article tackles questions that includes "How do we face the growing environmental challenges?" and "What visions do we have for a better future?” For more information about this contribution, read our article.

The 2nd International Panel Meeting for Mesoscience

Lecture at Mesoscience meeting

On the 22-24 September, Marc-Olivier Coppens attended the 2nd international panel meeting on Mesoscience in Beijing, China. Under the leadership of Professor Jinghai Li (Institute for Process Engineering, IPE, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and President of the National Science Foundation of China, NSFC), the Mesoscience programme aims to tackle challenging problems for which traditional bottom-up and top-down approaches do not suffice. 

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Prof. Coppens discussed Nature-Inspired Solutions for Engineering (NISE), as a systematic methodology for transformative technology developed in the CNIE at UCL. This methodology is grounded in fundamentals and is cognisant of the context of engineering applications, to tackle complex problems in engineering, inspired by natural systems. The NISE approach is complementary to the mesoscience approach and may benefit from developments in mesoscience as a framework to describe emergent phenomena in complex systems. The workings of the lung and of lung-inspired fuel cells, as developed in the CNIE, were chosen by the panel as striking examples of multi-objective optimisation under constraints to reach efficiency, robustness and scalability, both in nature and engineering, which could be treated as a mesoscience problem.

It is clear that there are exciting opportunities for collaboration between the Mesoscience programme and the CNIE, which were discussed. For more information regarding the IPM and its members, visit the CNIE website and Mesoscience

Malica Schmidt receives an outstanding total of 4 awards in September 

PhD Malica Schmidt wins ELGRA Best Oral Presentation

PhD candidate Chemical Engineering and Architecture Malica Schmidt, presented her research on passive humidity absorption to improve regenerative life-support for missions to Moon, Mars, and beyond at the 26th European Low Gravity Association (ELGRA) Symposium and General Assembly and 14th international conference on two-phase systems for space and ground applications. At the event, Malica was awarded Best Oral Presentation in Physical Sciences and 2nd Best Gravity Related Image. 

Malica Schmidt wins ELGRA 2nd Best Image
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Malica also received a poster presentation prize at the ECI Conference on Nature Inspired Engineering, Italy, resulting in the win of an impressive 4 awards over the summer including a participation certificate at the Falling Walls Lab London finals.

Malica Schmidt wins ECI-NIE Poster Prize

Malica Schmidt receives Falling Walls Lab Participation Certificate

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. We hope that through this summary, you are provided with a taste of the centre’s vision; entrepreneurship as well as continuing collaborations with a wide range of industrial partners allow us to accelerate the translation of research findings into practice.

For more information, please visit the Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering (CNIE) website, read our new brochure and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to stay updated for upcoming exciting news.