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Dr Darshil U. Shah

Associate Professor in Construction and Materials


As a senior researcher within the Centre for Natural Material Innovation, Dr Darshil Shah works with scientists across disciplines on developing biomaterials, such as engineered wood, bamboo and natural fibre composites, as light-weight, sustainable and structural alternatives to conventional materials for various application sectors, including wind energy, construction, transport, health care, and consumer products.

Some of Darshil's current active research grants include:
'Precision Engineered Timber: Digital design and delivery of healthier schools', Centre for Digital Built Britain (Co-I, Jul 2019 - Jun 2022, £500k)
'FLOWER: Flax composites, LOW weight, End-of-life, and Recycling', EU Interreg (Co-I R, Feb 2018 - Sept 2022, €4.6M)
'Crop-Cam: Hemp biocomposite professional camera casing' (Co-I, Feb 2017 - Sept 2018)
'Natural material innovation for sustainable living', Leverhulme (Post-doc, Oct 2014 - Oct 2019)

Darshil specialises in natural materials science and technology. Combining sustainability with performance and functionality in natural materials is a major driver of his research. His research covers three principal areas:

Applied Research Level: Developing low-embodied energy structural composites
Darshil examines structure-property-processing relations of natural fibre and recycled carbon fibre composites, and thereafter optimises their design, manufacture and properties for various application sectors, including wind energy, construction, transport, health care, and consumer products. His research has received numerous distinguished awards, including the International Quadrant Award 2015 for outstanding scientific works in the field of engineering and high-performance plastics and composites, and the JEC Asia 2013 Innovation Award for the developing world’s first functional flax composite wind turbine blade.

Fundamental Research Level: Exploring natural materials & structures for bioinspiration
From a perspective of biomechanics, Darshil explores natural materials and structures as models. These models include plant stems and cell walls, elephant's dentinous ivory tusks, and spider's and silkworm's silks. These studies offer insights into how we can mimic nature to use material and energy, structure and form, and information and processes to design effective solutions.

Combining Fundamental & Applied Research: Designing smart, functional biomaterials

Marrying both research levels, Darshil develops smart biomaterials as new disruptive technologies. These have included a green method to produce spider silk inspired fibres drawn from a supramolecular hydrogel at room temperature, fireproof timber with graphene coating, and mechanophore-attached silk fibres as strain sensors for health monitoring of fibre reinforced composite interfaces.

Prior to working at Cambridge, Darshil did post-doctoral research on silk-based and biological composites at the University of Oxford's Silk Group (Dept. of Zoology, 2013-2014), and obtained his PhD on developing plant fibre composites for wind energy applications at the University of Nottingham's Composite Research Group (Faculty of Engineering, 2009-2013).


Darshil teaches in the Dept. of Engineering (supervisions for Materials 1A and 1B, and IIB projects), and in the Dept. of Materials Science and Metallurgy (supervisor for Part II Techniques Project, Demonstrations for 1A Biomaterials and IB Non-Metallic Materials). Darshil also gives guest lectures, seminars and workshops for the Dept. of Architecture and for the Institute of Continuing Education (e.g. on 'Materials & the environment', 'Visions of the Future: Biomaterials and bioarchitecture for the future'). He is co-supervisor to one PhD student, and takes on undergraduate research students every year to work on active real-world research projects.

Darshil's teaching philosophy is social constructivist, encouraging students to interact with each other in class and learn from each other's ideas, experiences and knowledge. Using a range of teaching methods, he frequently combines brief discursive lectures with problem-based and/or hands-on learning to give students an experiential learning environment for interdisciplinary communication. Darshil is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is currently undertaking a PGCert in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education (2019-2020) at the University of Cambridge.

Darshil and colleagues (Dr MH Ramage, Architecture; Dr J Orr, Engineering) have received University of Cambridge’s Academic Seed Funding (Jan 2019-Dec 2021, £581k) to develop a new interdisciplinary undergraduate Tripos, 'Materials Architecture Design Engineering' (MADE) to address the intellectual challenges and learning opportunities presented by the grand challenges in the UK and around the world. This new Tripos will bring together the Schools of Technology, Arts and Humanities, and Physical Sciences in a curriculum with a common theme of creative interdisciplinary design.

Research Interests

Structure-property-processing relations in natural and man-made composites · Design and manufacture of biocomposites · Biomaterials, biomechanics & bioinspiration · Damage and composite health · Low-carbon materials and manufacture

Michael H. Ramage, MArch, PhD

Key Publications

Selected peer-reviewed journal articles

Wu, Y.*, Shah, D.U.*, Wang, B., Liu, J., Ramage M.H., Scherman, O.A., Biomimetic supramolecular fibres exhibit water-induced supercontraction. Advanced Materials (IF = 19.8), 2018: 1707169. (*Joint first authors)

Bourmaud, A., Beaugrand, J., Shah, D.U., Placet, V., Baley, C. Towards the design of high-performance plant fibre composites. Progress in Materials Science (IF = 31.1), 2018. 97: p. 347-408

Dhakal, H., Bourmaud, A., Berzin, F., Almansour, F., Zhang, Z., Shah, D.U., Beaugrand, J. Mechanical properties of leaf sheath date palm fibre waste biomass reinforced polycaprolactone (PCL) biocomposites. Industrial Crops and Products, 2018. 126: p. 394–402. (Extensive media coverage)

Vollrath, F., Mi, R., Shah, D.U., Ivory as an important model biocomposite. Curator: The Museum Journal, Special Issue on ‘Ivory in the Museum: The Elephant in Our Room’, 2018. 61(1): p. 95-110.

Wu, Y.*, Shah, D.U.*, Liu, C., Yu, Z., Liu, J., Ren, X., Ramage M.H., Abell, C., Scherman, O.A., Bioinspired supramolecular fibres drawn from a multi-phase self-assembled hydrogel. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 2017. 114 (31): p. 8163-8168. (*Joint first authors)

Shah, D.U., Reynolds, T.P.S, Ramage, M.H., The strength of plants: theory and experimental methods to measure the mechanical properties of stems. Journal of Experimental Botany, 2017. 68 (16): p. 4497-451

Ramage, M.H., Sharma, B., Shah, D.U., Reynolds, T., Thermal relaxation of laminated bamboo for folded shells. Materials & Design, 2017. 132: p. 582-589

Woodcock, J.W., Beams, R., Davis, C.S., Chen, N., Stranick, S., Shah, D.U., Vollrath, F., Gilman J.W. Observation of interfacial damage in a silk-epoxy composite, using hyperspectral and fluorescence lifetime imaging of a simple mechanoresponsive fluorescent probe. Advanced Materials Interfaces (IF = 4.3), 2017. 4(10): 1601018. (Cover article) (Extensive media coverage)

Ramage, M.H., Burridge, H., Busse-Wicher M., Fereday, G., Reynolds, T., Shah, D.U., Wu, G., Yu, L., Fleming, P., Densley-Tingley, D., Allwood, J., Dupree, P., Linden, P., Scherman, O. The wood from the trees: the use of timber in construction. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, 2017. 68: p. 333-359

Shah, D.U., Nag, R., Clifford, M.J. Why do we observe significant differences between measured and 'back-calculated' properties of natural fibres? Cellulose, 2016. 23(3): p. 1481-1490

Shah, D.U. Damage in biocomposites: Stiffness evolution of aligned plant fibre composites during monotonic and cyclic fatigue loading. Composites Part A, 2016. In Press.

Shah, D.U., Porter, D, Vollrath, F. Can silk become an effective reinforcing fibre? A property comparison with flax and glass composites. Composites Science and Technology, 2014. 101: 173-183.

Shah, D.U. Natural fibre composites: Comprehensive Ashby-type materials selection charts. Materials & Design, 2014. 62 p. 21-31.

Shah, D.U. Developing plant fibre composites for structural applications by optimising composite parameters: a critical review. Journal of Materials Science, 2013. 48 (18) p. 6083-6107.

Shah, D.U., Schubel, P.J. Can flax replace E-glass in structural composites? A small wind turbine blade case study. Composites Part B, 2013. 52 p. 172-181.

Book Chapters

Shah, D.U., Vollrath, F. ‘Silk for sustainable composites’ in ‘Natural Fibre-reinforced Biodegradable and Bioresorbable Polymer Composites’, 2017. Edited by Lau, K.T. Elsevier Ltd.

Shah, D.U., Clifford, M.J. ‘Compaction, permeability and flow simulation for liquid composite moulding of natural fibre composites’ to appear in ‘Manufacturing of natural fibre reinforced polymer composites’, 2015. Springer-Verlag, New York, USA.

Recent Conference Papers/Presentations

The design of a structural biocomposite in the 8th International Conference on Structural Analysis of Advanced Materials (ICSAAM 2018). 28-31 August, 2018. Tarbes, France. (Invited Keynote)

Developing plant fibre composites for structural applications in Perspectives in Renewables. 4-5 June 2018. University of Natural Resources and Life Science (BOKU) Vienna-Tulln, Austria. (Invited Keynote)

Spider silk inspired damping fibres drawn from a supramolecular hydrogel composite at room temperature - a step closer to sustainable fibre technology in the 18th European Conference on Composite Materials (ECCM-18). 24-28 June 2018. Athens, Greece

In-situ x-ray CT and high-resolution μ-CT imaging of liquid transport in timber in the 14th International Conference on Flow Processing in Composite Materials (FPCM-14). 30 May - 1 June 2018. Luleå, Sweden.

Imaging and modelling of liquid transport in timber through in-situ X-ray CT and high-resolution μ-CT in the 9th International Plant Biomechanics Conference (PBM2018). 9-14 August, 2018. Montreal, Canada.

Processing bamboo for structural composites: Influence of preservative treatments on surface and interface properties in 17th European Conference on Composite Materials (ECCM-17). 26-30 June 2016. Munich, Germany

Probing the role of xylan in the irreversible deformation of Arabidopsis thaliana in 8th International Plant Biomechanics Conference. 29 November – 4 December 2015. Nagoya, Japan.

Silk for light-weight syntactic foams and tough textile composites in SAMPE/ACMA’s Composites and Advanced Materials Expo (CAMX 2015). 26-29 October 2015. Dallas, USA.

Recent interviews

Interview on Royal Society's video 'Timber Towers' showcasing our exhibit for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2019.

Interview on NewScientist, 'Welcome to the Age of Wood' (by Graham Lawton), 16th March 2019.

Interview on the BBC Radio 4 show ‘Farming Today’ on bioplastics and growing hemp for fibre reinforced composites. 21st July 2018.

Interview on the Cambridge TV show @7 on ‘Science Tech’ on our invention of a green method to produce artificial spider silk. Access here, 6:22 onwards.

Interview on the BBC Radio Cambridge show ‘Naked Scientists’ on our invention of a green method to produce artificial spider silk. 18th July 2017. Access here.

Interview on the BBC Radio Cambridge show ‘Naked Scientists’ on sustainable housing in the UK in 2050, and alternative building materials. 7th June 2016. Access here.

Coverage of our (PNAS, 2017) paper by multiple (>25) news outlets including materialtoday, Daily Mail Online, Yahoo!, (Discovery network), Smithsonian,, EurekaAlert! March 10-26 July.

Coverage of our (Advanced Materials Interfaces, 2017) paper by multiple (>10) news outlets including materialsgate, AZO Sensors,, nanowerk, EurekAlert!. March 17-21 2017.

Sealy, C. Silk shows new strengths in composites in Reinforced Plastics, 2016. 59(6): 294-301. My interview and work on silk composites and the opportunities they present.

Dr Darshil U. Shah
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