UCL Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering


Happy New Year 2022 from the CNIE!

6 January 2022


It has been another extremely difficult year around the world, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as severe social, economic and environmental challenges as the deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) draws closer, with some people experiencing those pressures disproportionately. As CNIE Director, I am proud of our amazing, diverse team, working tirelessly to make a difference, through education, outreach, and to further develop and apply NICE and our Nature-Inspired Solution (NIS) methodology to accelerate innovation and help address Grand Challenges.

In this context. there has also been much to celebrate for us in 2021: PhD (Viswanath Sasank Bethapudi, Haiyue Yu, Nidhi Kapil) and MSc (Xinyu Liao, Alba Scotto d'Apollonia) graduations; new PhD students (Adriana Bernardes, Julia Linke, Lucy Todd, Gowan Whalley) and postdocs (Dr Cristian-Renato Boruntea); promotion to Senior Research Fellow (Dr Panagiotis Trogadas) and starting positions as Associate Professor (Dr Yanan Liu, Dr Jianan Li) after their CNIE postdoc. All-important NICE outreach and public engagement activities were led by Nidhi Kapil and Halan Mohamed, as well as by Malica Schmidt, Julia Linke and many others contributed. We have much enjoyed teaching the NICE module twice this year to our senior undergraduate (MEng) and MSc students, enriched by guest lectures from our NICE researchers and valuable support by Dr Yang Lan, Linlin Xu, Ibrahim Al-Nutaifi and Maria Mourkou (first online, then face-to-face and even hybrid).

The breadth of our research is visualised in the attached card, co-designed by Nina Jotanovic and myself. It is a playful composition based on Dr Matthew Chin’s research. Over the course of 2021, we published several key articles on NICE (methodology, examples in process intensification, catalysis, fuel cells, fluidisation, membranes, etc.) and fundamentals of diffusion in nanoporous materials, and edited a Special Issue of Molecular Systems Design & Engineering (Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)/Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)). Aleksandra Głowska has spent a fruitful year at IFP Energies Nouvelles (Lyon, France) for her PhD, as part of our collaboration. 2021 has also seen Malica Schmidt's nature-inspired multi-functional surfaces (NIMFS) travel to Space, where they are currently on the International Space Station (ISS)!

New projects have been seeded via our CNIE Inspiration Grants, one led by Dr Simona Migliozzi on “Pickering emulsions with nature-inspired structural stability for stimuli-responsive drug delivery” (partnering with UCL Pharmacy) and a second one by Dr Yang Lan on “Carboxysomes-inspired photocatalytic system for CO2 reduction” (partnering with the Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis at Cambridge).

Over the past year, we have had the pleasure to connect at least virtually with old and new friends around the world, via plenaries, keynotes, seminars, and other presentations from the group. I am immensely grateful for support from collaborators around the world, as well as sponsors, including UKRI/EPSRC, generous philanthropy and industrial partners.

Personally, I have been honoured to become a Fellow of the RSC and have started my new role as Vice-Dean for Engineering (Interdisciplinarity, Innovation) to catalyse more interdisciplinary, transformative collaboration across UCL.

A very special thanks to Dr Barry Reid and Dr Han Wu for technical/lab support and keeping the group safe, Graham Knight, Claire Saunders, Katy Le Lion, Johanna Novales and the UCL Chemical Engineering admin team for administrative support.

Finally, Thank You for your interest and encouragement.

Stay safe and let us work together for Sustainable Development and a happier, fairer world in 2022.

Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens
Ramsay Memorial Professor in Chemical Engineering
Director of the UCL Centre for Nature-Inspired Engineering (CNIE)


Credits and more information on the images on the card are listed below.
Cover design by Nina Jotanovic & Marc-Olivier Coppens
Cover Images

Top images, left to right:

  • Astronaut Matthias Maurer holding “Touching Surfaces” including the CNIE’s NIMFS (nature-inspired multifunctional surfaces) for water recovery and anti-bacterial properties, on the International Space Station (ISS). Launched by SpaceX CRS-23 on 29 August 2021. Project by Malica Schmidt, in collaboration with the DLR (Dr Ralf Moeller). [Link]
  • Cover of Advanced Materials Interfaces, containing the perspective review on “Nature-inspired, computer-assisted optimization of hierarchically structured zeolites” by Marc-Olivier Coppens, Tobias Weissenberger, Qunfeng Zhang and Guanghua Ye, Adv. Mat. Int. 8(4), 2001409 (2021). [Link]
  • Bio-inspired veneers: Porcelain component encased in a mesophase of a self-assembling polystyrene nanoparticle suspension. Water loss induces nanoparticle packing into an opaline structure, gradually revealing vivid, shifting structural colouration. By Nina Jotanovic.
  • Confocal microscopy image of a nature-inspired functional net, by Yuanxi Yang and Dr Yang Lan.
  • Kidney-inspired photoinduced patterning of membranes, by Halan Mohamed, Adriana Bernardes and Linlin Xu.
  • Small-Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) measurement on Au/MgO incorporated mesoporous zeolite Y, by Junwen Gu and Dr Han Wu.

Bottom images, left to right:

  • Graphical abstract of “Solids lateral mixing and compartmentalization in dynamically structured gas-solid fluidized beds”, by Laurien Vandewalle, Victor Francia, Kevin Van Geem, Guy Marin, and Marc-Olivier Coppens, Chem. Eng. J. 430(4), 133063 (2022). [Link]
  • Graphical abstract of “Precisely engineered supported gold clusters as a stable catalyst for propylene epoxidation”, by Nidhi Kapil, Tobias Weissenberger, Fabio Cardinale, Panagiotis Trogadas, T. Alexander Nijhuis, Michael M. Nigra and Marc-Olivier Coppens, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 60, 18185-18193 (2021). [Link]
  • Graphical abstract of “Electro-thermal mapping of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells with a fractal flow-field”, by V. Sasank Bethapudi, Jennifer Hack, Gareth Hinds, Paul R. Shearing, Dan J.L. Brett and Marc-Olivier Coppens, Energy Conv. Mgt 250, 114924 (2021). [Link]
  • Graphical abstract of “Fractal injectors to intensify liquid-phase processes by controlling the turbulent flow field”, by Shuxian Jiang, Jiajun Wang, Lian-Fang Feng and Marc-Olivier Coppens, Chem. Eng. Sci. 238, 116616 (2021). [Link]
  • Cover of Molecular Systems Design & Engineering (Royal Society of Chemistry/IChemE journal), for the Special Issue on “Nature-Inspired Solutions for Engineering”, edited by Marc-Olivier Coppens and Bharat Bhushan. The cover art includes a photograph taken by Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens in Costa Rica, in the cloud forest at the foot of the Arenal Volcano. It shows a spiderweb in the cavity of a buttress tree, rich with epiphytes, catching the fog [Link]. The inset depicts the schematic of a kidney-inspired anti-fouling mechanism for a membrane (work by Halan Mohamed, Zheyi Meng and others at the CNIE, published in the Special Issue).