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Cambridge Science Festival 2017 Natural Material Innovation

Come to the Centre for Natural Material Innovation’s hand-built wooden exhibit, and learn how we combine science and architecture to design 300-meter tall skyscrapers from timber! Find out why ‘wood is good’, what makes wood strong, and how to stop wood from burning. We will have on-hand a microscope, images, videos and explanations of the tests, a small experiment showing building ventilation, and renderings of timber skyscrapers we have designed.
When Mar 18, 2017
from 10:00 AM to 04:30 PM
Where Department of Chemistry, Cyber Cafe
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Come to the Centre for Natural Material Innovation’s hand-built wooden exhibit, and learn how we combine science and architecture to design 300-meter tall skyscrapers from timber! 
Find out why ‘wood is good’, what makes wood strong, and how to stop wood from burning.
Our group works from the nanoscale to the scale of buildings on fundamental and applied research in wood. Through biochemistry, materials chemistry, architecture, engineering and mathematics we aim to understand, modify and translate the strength of plants into new materials to realise timber’s potential as a sustainable alternative to concrete and steel.
We will demonstrate four research aspects: understanding how plants support themselves, polymer impregnation of timber, fire, and timber structural engineering. 
1). We will make a model to illustrate natural and mutant plant stems which can be pulled apart by visitors, demonstrating the difference in structural behaviour.
2). Polymer impregnation can stiffen connections, improving performance. We will use cellulose sponges to represent the timber because the changes in the material and its properties can be seen and felt by visitors.
3). Fire is critical for both the engineering and public perception of wooden skyscrapers. We are developing ways of making this engaging without burning anything at the exhibit, including simulated fire and video demonstration the surprising resistance of structural timber to fire.
4). We will demonstrate modern timber structures through the design, engineering and construction of our exhibit stand.

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A strategy to improve the processing of softwood to sustainable biomaterials and biofuels

Sep 21, 2017

In a paper recently published in Biotechnology for Biofuels we are looking at a possible way to improve the processing of timber derived from conifers to feedstock used for sustainable manufacturing of novel biomaterials and biofuels. Softwood, as any other timber, is predominantly composed of plant secondary cell walls - an intricate matrix of polysaccharides and phenolic compounds which surround wood cells. Due to abundance of trees, plant secondary cell walls are the largest, renewable, resource of bioenergy on the planet.

Green method developed for making technical fibres

Sep 07, 2017

The team at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation has designed a super stretchy, strong and sustainable material that mimics the qualities of spider silk and viscose rayon, and is ‘spun’ from a material that is 98% water.

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