School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

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Engineered bacteria research awarded £300,000

A team of researchers led by architecture lecturer Dr Martyn Dade-Robertson has been awarded a £300,000 EPSRC grant for their project Computational Colloids: Engineered bacteria as computational agents in the design and manufacture of new materials and structures.

The project investigates how Civil Engineering may be integrated with the emerging field of Synthetic Biology. Combining these fields has potentially transformative implications for both and may generate a new field of Engineering Design. 

Imagine a column of sand saturated with billions of engineered bacteria cells. As a force is applied to the top of the column, bacteria in the sand detect an increase in pressure. The bacteria respond by synthesising a new biological material to bind the grains together and resisting the load. The resulting structure would consist of a material where sand grains are only cemented where the forces through the material require.

The research proposes a proof of concept to show how we might design a manufacturing process where the material itself acts as manufacturer and designer, modelling and responding to its environment. Such a technology would push well beyond the current state of the art and challenge a new generation of engineering designers to think at multiple scales from molecular to the built environment and to anticipate civil engineering with living organisms.

The team, lead by Dr Dade-Robertson, includes Anil Wipat (Computer Science) and Helen Mitrani (Civil Engineering) and Meng Zhang (Molecular  Biology at Northumbria University). The project will also be supported by Henk Jonkers at Delft University and Autodesk's Bio/Nano and Programmable Matter Group. The project will last 18 months and start on the 1st September.

Dr Martyn Dade-Robertson is Degree Programme Director for the MSc in Experimental Architecture.

published on: 18 May 2015