Breaking things: the search for sustainable materials

For Dr David “don’t call me a lecturer” Jesson, who describes himself as a ‘breaker of things’, creating a truly sustainable material is the ultimate goal.

In a feature I wrote for this week’s Surrey Advertiser (published on Friday March 18), Dr Jesson chatted to me about his research, which involves testing materials to breaking point and working with carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

The University of Surrey materials engineer also gave me a tour of their labs, featuring an array of formidable-looking machines designed to crush, stretch and generally destroy things.

As he explained in the feature, “People always ask ‘What do you do?’ and when you say it’s material sciences, they either say, ‘huh’, or ‘fantastic, you get to play with pretty fabrics’, so I usually go with ‘breaker of things’”.

“But I’m not a lecturer, I have no aspiration to be a lecturer in terms of having to organise a sequence of lectures around a particular topic.

“It’s one of those things where I get a chip on my shoulder because everyone expects you to be a lecturer.”

Dr Jesson’s quest is to find a naturally-occurring material which is environmentally friendly to produce – this means that it shouldn’t take more energy to make it than it would do to create man-made fibres.

It also means that habitats shouldn’t be destroyed in order to grow said plant from which the sustainable material comes from, and therein lies the challenge.

For Dr Jesson, actually putting the next generation of materials, super-strong CNTs and spider silk, to practical use is far in the future because at the moment, only small amounts of each are able to be produced.

Instead, his hope is to create a strong, sustainable material that will also prove recyclable.

He added: “As a life cycle, we are trying to think in terms of cradle to cradle, rather than cradle to grave, trying to use those waste products in the next step.”

Comments are closed.

© Melanie Hall 2017