Advanced materials play an increasing role in contemporary social life, from food to medicines, to architecture. In this project, researchers in the physical and social sciences together with designers, artists and stakeholders are developing and testing a more inclusive way to imagine and innovate with materials.


The concept of “living materials” rests on recent ideas to combine living cells with non-living components, to exploit the intelligence of cells for advanced material functionality. Drawing from our expertise in membrane biophysics and synthetic biologywe will be experimenting with encapsulating and organizing living bacteria in a ‘factory’, capable of growth, multiplication and environmental sensing. Such ‘living’ material is clearly very different from the passive materials that humanity has used to date. It can grow and adapt to the user’s needs, and if sensibly utilised, could underlie the development of new technologies for food, pharma, building materials and coatings, etc.


Our team comprised of physicists, social scientists, artists and designers aims to develop a new approach to innovating with materials, which follows societal visions and opinions. We will test public engagement practices that draw on the imagination and experience of relevant stakeholders to guide and enrich the trajectory of our research on living materials. Our activities will use concepts from the Responsible Innovation framework, Collective experimentation, Participatory Design and Speculative Design practices.


Our project is funded by the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University and the Royal Society APEX Award. It will kick-start with a sequence of interdisciplinary events and conversations in the period between January- March 2020.