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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S03305X/1
Title: Frontier Engineering: Progression Grant in Nature-Inspired Engineering
Principal Investigator: Coppens, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Titchener-Hooker, Professor N Miodownik, Professor M Sorensen, Professor E
Dobbert P Cruz, Professor M Day, Dr R Gavriilidis, Professor A
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
ExxonMobil GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) Johnson Matthey
Department: Chemical Engineering
Organisation: UCL
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 December 2019 Ends: 30 November 2021 Value (£): 758,983
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Bioprocess Engineering Building Ops & Management
Fuel Cell Technologies Water Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy Manufacturing
Environment Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
06 Feb 2019 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 and 7 February 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Evolution over the eons has made nature a treasure trove of clever solutions to enable scalability and resilience, with sustainable ways to utilise scarce resources. Many fundamental mechanisms observed in natural systems could also deliver desirable properties in artificial systems. Launched in 2013, as one of five EPSRC Frontier Engineering Centres, the UCL Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering (CNIE) draws lessons from nature to engineer innovative solutions to our grand challenges in energy, water, materials, health, and living space. CNIE's vision is to be a world-leading research centre, unique in its thematic approach and academic breadth, combining state-of-the-art facilities with interdisciplinary expertise, delivering transformative impact across a range of sectors.

The CNIE is organised around three Themes (TX), each corresponding to a fundamental category of natural mechanisms. Each is known to deliver desired properties in nature, and is chosen because of its potential to be transformative to many practical problems. The Hierarchical Transport Networks Theme (T1) concerns the way nature bridges micro- to macroscopic length scales through optimal networks as found, e.g., in trees and lungs. The Force Balancing Theme (T2) draws on processes that occur at various scales in nature, such as the balancing of mechanical forces in bones. The Dynamic Self-Organisation Theme (T3) relates to temporal structuring and emergence of robust, self-healing and adaptive organisation, such as in dunes and cells. To date, EPSRC support has enabled: validation of the Centre's unique nature-inspired approach through Flagship Projects, within one or more Themes, applied to industrial challenges in the domains of energy, water, materials, health and living space; extension of the NIE approach beyond chemical engineering to a range of academic disciplines that includes biochemical engineering, computer science, and architecture, as well as expansion of the Centre's national and international network, through its highly successful "Inspiration Grants" scheme; and, translation of the CNIE's findings into practice, through knowledge exchange and entrepreneurship, supported by an extensive network of industrial partners. Core EPSRC support has enabled research at a level of risk not typically supported by standard research funding routes. It has also enabled substantial leverage of additional research and translation funding from other sources, including EPSRC, H2020 and industry.

The proposed EPSRC Progression Grant will extend underpinning investment in the CNIE for a further two years, supporting, together with continued investment from UCL, CNIE's transition to long-term financial sustainability. Specifically, it will enable: exploration and validation of the NIE approach within a fourth Theme in Ecosystems, Control & Modularity (T4); further expansion of the CNIE's approach to new application areas in built environment & design and biomedical & healthcare engineering, and development of (T3) in process intensification and energy; retention of core research staff, empowering and supporting them towards independent research careers; and continued translation of the CNIE's work into practice through industrial engagement and entrepreneurship. Collective, synergistic behaviour is pervasive in biology, from bacterial communities to termites. The new Theme (T4) will explore implementation of mechanisms that induce such behaviour, to propose nature-inspired control mechanisms, in applications ranging from catalysis to process intensification, robotics and the built environment. A new Flagship Project will explore translation of core mechanisms to process intensification and manufacturing, while a further series of Inspiration Grants will expand the interface between chemical process systems engineering, computer science, genetics and biochemical engineering to build a strong, validated foundation for applications in other areas.
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