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Unit information: Nature's Materials in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Nature's Materials
Unit code AENGM0044
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Trask
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Aerospace Engineering
Faculty Faculty of Engineering


This unit will introduce a wide range of solutions and principles found in nature, e.g. biological ceramic, polymer, elastomeric and cellular materials, nature's approach to building with fibres, attachment methods in nature, structural adaptivity and functional biological materials. The unit will be delivered from a materials science perspective with particular emphasis on the application of these methodologies to advanced fibre reinforced polymer composites. The specialist knowledge and understanding gained through this unit will provide the students with a good foundation for further research in this field.

The aim of this unit is to:

  • Provide the students with an overview of the structure-function relationship of natural materials as a model for the development of new types of high-performance engineering materials.
  • Introduce a range of composites materials that can be found or are inspired by nature, or that make use of naturally occurring components to enhance their functionality.

Intended learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of the unit students will be able to:

  1. Provide a clear overview of the diverse range of nature's materials, their complex hierarchical structure and describe their unique engineering properties.
  2. Synthesis and critically compare engineering and nature's solution to the structural design of composites materials through self-direction and communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences.
  3. Extend their current understanding by communicating the future technical challenges in the design and manufacture of biologically inspired composite materials and structures.

The learning outcomes align to the UK-SPEC A1, A2 and B1 (Engineering Council -

Teaching details

The unit comprises a combination of initial lectures to give an overview of nature materials, seminar style discussions, investigative activities and individual presentations by the students on their chosen topics. Students will be expected to research their own subjects in their own time by engaging with provided reading material and participating in feedback tutorials with the Unit Director.

Assessment Details

1. Written assessment on chosen topic: Specialist Written Assignment (60%) (ILO 1-3)

  • This is written as a 12-15 page journal style report
  • This will highlight the students’ ability to synthesis and critically compare nature's structure-function relationships with engineering principles and concepts as a model for the development of new types of high-performance composite materials.

2. 12-minute Specialist Topic Presentation with 3 minutes for questions (40%) (ILO 1-3)

This is assessed by the Unit Director and a second assessor.

Reading and References

Biological materials:

  • Structure and mechanical properties, Marc Andre Meyérs, Po-Yu Chen, Albert Yu-Min Lin, and Yasuaki Seki, Progress in Materials Science 53 (2008) 1206
  • Cellulose and collagen: from fibres to tissues, Peter Fratzl, Current Opinion in Colloid and Interface Science 8 (2003) 32-39

Cellular materials:

  • Biomechanics of cellular solids, Lorna J. Gibson, Journal of Biomechanics 38 (2005) 377399
  • Micromechanical modelling of mechanical behaviour and strength of wood: State-of-the-art review, Leon Mishnaevsky Jr., Hai Qing, Computational Materials Science 44 (2008) 363370