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Cells to skyscrapers: the science and engineering of 21st century timber

Saturday 17 March: 10:00am - 4:30pm

Department of Chemistry, Cyber Cafe, Lensfield Road, CB2 1EW

Drop in and visit 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.

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.

Booking Information

No need to book.


Accessible toilet, Lift

Additional Information

Age: All ages, Hands-on, Drop in, Free