Forming hybrid materials by accretion and aggregation of mineral particles and living matter

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Architecture


The research aims to create a new generation of grown materials for the built environment that do not employ energy-consuming and/or polluting processes in their production. The research will look into biosilicification in nature by extracting principles, as well as applying lab-based growth systems in which living organism promote the mineralization of new solid materials. In addition to the investigation of physical properties, new applications in the built environment will be explored, as well as how novel aesthetics can stimulate human senses.

The proposed study will be conducted with a cross departmental supervision in the Built Environment - Prof Marcos Cruz and Chemical Engineering - Prof Marc-Olivier Coppens, merging expertise in chemical and biochemical engineering and architectural design. It will be developed in the engineering and physical sciences research remit and contribute to the delivery of Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund areas mainly of manufacturing processes and materials of the future, but it will also encompass smart, flexible and clean energy technologies and, to some extent, bioscience and biotechnology.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R512400/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021
1956005 Studentship EP/R512400/1 09/11/2017 08/11/2021 Nina Jotanovic
Title Ceramics tiles exhibited at SynbiTECH Conference 
Description Four ceramic tiles veneered with self-assembled cellulose nano-crystals to achieve the lustrous surface quality were exhibited during a one day exhibition during the conference. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Presented tiles have shown interdisciplinary work to scientific and industry based audience observing how these bodies interact with the piece and what question about the work arise from these interactions. 
Title Feateured in Bio-ID film exhibited at 'La Fabrique du Vivant' Centre Pompidou, Paris 
Description A short sequence showing silicification of soft hydrogel scaffold infused with amines. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Exhibition had a wide reach over two months with establishing itself as the most complete show on the topic of 'living design' that gathered international contributors from different disciplines. 
Title London Design Festival 2018 & 2019: Biodesign Here Now 
Description Year 2018: Several prototypes in petri plates showcasing formation of bio-inspired silicified 'crusts' on soft amine-infused hydrogel scaffolds. Year 2019: A wall segment 170x87cm consisting of ceramic tiles veneered with living microbial colonies self-assembled into highly ordered structures to yield iridescent structural colour. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Both exhibitions had a wide range of audience visiting, from common public and scientist to industry professionals. Exhibited prototypes generated discussions about the future application of such living systems in built environment. Important questions were raised and noted in regards to public interaction with bio-intergrated and bio-inspired systems, that are valuable experiences and observations for future project development. 
Description Collaboration with 'Bio-inspired Photonics' research group from University of Cambridge 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Department of Chemistry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise in computational modelling, digital fabrication, scale-up and know-how on ceramic slip casting, as well as access to Bartlett's B-Made facilities for manufacturing and prototyping.
Collaborator Contribution Support of Bio-inspired Photonics group brought expertise and in-depth knowledge on cultivating microorganisms for structural colour, with insights to specificities of substrate needed for their growth together with life span of such a system of 'living colour'.
Impact This collaboration examines use of living iridescent structural colour in the built environment. Collaboration was established to test a potential of such a system on a larger scale in regards to perceptual effects and biochemical feasibility and its endurance. With this aim a wall segment 170 cm in length and 90 cm in height was produced and exhibited at London Design Festival as part of the 'Biodesign Here Now' exhibition. Wall consisted of ceramic tiles veneered with living microbial colonies who self-assemble in a highly ordered three-dimensional microscopic bulk that exhibits iridescence and peculiar luminosity. Prototype merged expertise of several disciplines including architecture, biochemistry and photonics.
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration with 'Green Nano-materials' research group from University of Sheffield 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Design input of how to guide precipitation of silica nano-spheres onto designed and fabricated scaffolds of a particular shape.
Collaborator Contribution An insight and know-how on laboratory techniques of bio-inpired silica precipitations.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration including architects and chemical engineers, with an output in a form of exhibited prototypes at the London Design Festival in 2018 at 'Biodesign Here Now' exhibition and a short movie exhibited at Centre Pompidou at the 'La Fabrique du Vivant' exhibition in 2019.
Start Year 2018
Description Presentation & meeting with P+ and Foster&Partners 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A presentation and a brainstorming meeting where the research was presented to practitioners whose insights are valuable for discussion on applicability of the study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
Description Talk at the 'Designing with the Living', The Design Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A one-day symposium at the Design Museum London featured talks on how designing with living organisms can respond to some of today's ecological challenges.
Various talks and panel discussions generated great interest and discussion within postgraduate students who have attended the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019