British research council supports Danish research in strong natural materials – University of Copenhagen

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01 June 2011

British research council supports Danish research in strong natural materials

Nanoresearch

Researchers from the Nano-Science Center at University of Copenhagen are to break the code for strong natural materials. The British Research Council supports Danish fundamental research that could deliver the key to producing robust artificial human spare parts of the future.

Some of nature's most resilient materials gain their strength from the interplay between naturally occurring nano particles and organic molecules. However how nature determines the shape, size and strength of items such as teeth, bamboo stalks and mussel shells continues to pose a mystery. Now, a research group from the department of Chemistry is providing insight into this exciting biological question. And quite unheard of the research financing will be provided by the British Research Council, EPSRC. (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)

"“If we can understand the details of the chemical processes, scientists will eventually come closer to curing ailments such as arthritis, osteoporosis and kidney stones. With data from the coming project one might even be able to produce artificial teeth, bones and other replacement parts” "

Susan Stipp, Professor, Dept of Chemistry



International lead

The NanoGeoScience group lead by Professor Susan Stipp has received confirmation that the British research Council is supporting the project MIB – Reactions at the Mineral Molecule Interface with 6.2 million pounds over the next five years. With the Copenhagen team as a partner MIB was launched by a consortium of English universities. Sheffield, Warwick and Cambridge Universities among others, but the consortium wanted their Danish colleagues on board because Copenhagens NanoGeoScience group has built up a leading international position as experimentalists in the investigation of natural nanoparticles. Stipp explains:

- “We can provide data that no other group in the world can even come close to. That’s why the English consortium wanted us to join them and how they managed to persuade the EPSRC to fund our share of the work.”

Fundamental chemistry research to explain materials like kidneystone and teeth

The phenomenon to be investigated is called biomineralisation. When nature combines organic molecules such as cellulose or collagen with minerals such as silica and apatite, finely tuned chemical processes determine whether the finished product is a bamboo stick or a leg bone. According to Susan Stipp, the project will focus on basic research which reaches in under the skin of biological chemistry. However, the results can eventually have enormous application potential.

“If we can understand the details of the chemical processes, scientists will eventually come closer to curing ailments such as arthritis, osteoporosis and kidney stones. With data from the coming project one might even be able to produce artificial teeth, bones and other replacement parts,” explains the clearly excited Professor Stipp.

Un-heard of support

While experimental studies will be carried out in Copenhagen - by Bo Christiansen, Karina Sand, Lone Skovbjerg, Mingjun Yang, Knud Dideriksen, Tue Hassenkam, Nicolas Bovet, Martin Andersson og Klaus Juhl – the British partners will develop theoretical models. The combination of theoretical and experimental insight will contribute to a fundamental understanding of how biomaterials are formed. This is an understanding that will have significance when the results are employed to develop new products and materials. Susan Stipp said that for an external group to receive money from the British funding agency is highly unusual

“The University of Copenhagen is the only non-British partner in any EPSRC project. People tell me that it is unheard of for a non-UK research group to receive a British research grant, so this is exciting, an honour and important for the reputation of the University of Copenhagen,” concludes Susan Stipp.