University departments receive grant to examine natural building materials.

The University of Cambridge has received a £1.75 million Research Programme Grant from the Leverhulme Trust on the theme of Natural Material Innovation.

The funding of £1.75 million over the next five years will enable exploration and development of the potential for natural materials in the built environment.

A fundamental premise of the work is that natural materials are an essential component of a sustainable future, but that unmodified, such materials are not up to the task. 

Led by the Department of Architecture the research will involve unique collaborations with the University’s Department of Biochemistry, Department of Plant Sciences, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and Department of Chemistry.

Michael Ramage, a Senior University Lecturer in the Department of Architecture who will lead the research, said: “Our vision is to establish new sustainable applications for renewable, flexible, energy-efficient and plant-based natural materials in the built environment, in order to improve building quality and mitigate the human impact on climate change, while bringing research innovation directly to practice for the benefit of the natural environment.”

The co-investigators are Paul Dupree (Biochemistry), Paul Linden (DAMTP), Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley (Plant Sciences) and Oren Scherman (Chemistry). 

Mr Ramage added: “What makes this interesting is that Paul Dupree and I, for instance, have knowledge about a given plant such as willow but both approach it from such different positions.
“The departments involved in this rarely work together and that is what makes this project unique.”

Researchers aim to redesign natural materials to carry out different functions that will lead to completely new, innovative solutions, and will change the way we construct cities and civil infrastructure. 
This starts at the molecular level and continues through to engineered solutions that provide new approaches to sustainable living.

By bringing together people and research in biochemistry, chemistry, fluid dynamics, engineering and architecture in a ground-breaking manner, researchers hope to fundamentally transform the way we build, with positive impact on the built and natural environments.

The proposed work fuses research in biochemistry and polymer chemistry at the molecular scale with applied research, modelling and testing of structural and environmental materials at the scale of buildings.

A significant goal will be to ensure new materials are less energy intensive and more sustainable than those they replace.

Image information: New Studio, Department of Architecture. Credit: University of Cambridge.

The Leverhulme Trust

The Leverhulme Trust was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 the Trust has provided grants and scholarships research and education. Today, it is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing over £60 million a year. The Leverhulme Research Programme Grant scheme provides up to £1.75 million over five years, to enable the exploration of specified research themes through a series of interlinking research projects. The themes for 2013 were ‘the nature of knots’ and ‘innovation for sustainable living’.

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