Prof Marc-Olivier Coppens


Prof Marc-Olivier Coppens

Office: Roberts Building 231
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Phone: +44 (0)20 3108 1126
Fax: +44 (0)20 7383 2348


PhD, Chemical Engineering, University of Ghent, Belgium (1996)

BSc and MSc, Chemical Engineering, University of Ghent, Belgium (1993)




Marc-Olivier Coppens is the Ramsay Memorial Professor and Head of Chemical Engineering at University College London (UCL). He is also the Director of the EPSRC “Frontier Engineering” Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering at UCL. He became Fellow of the IChemE in 2014, and Fellow of the AIChE in 2016. In 2017, he was also appointed Qiushi Chair Professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, a leading Chinese university.


He holds MSc (1993) and PhD (1996) degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Ghent, Belgium, was a visiting scholar at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (1996), and a postdoctoral fellow at Yale (1996-1997) and UC Berkeley (1997-1998). He joined the TU Delft Department of Chemical Engineering in the Netherlands in 1998, was named Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor in 2001, and Chair of Physical Chemistry and Molecular Thermodynamics, 2003–2006. He joined the Chemical & Biological Engineering faculty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2006 and was Associate Director of the Multiscale Science and Engineering Center, prior to moving to UCL in 2012, as Head of Chemical Engineering.


Professor Coppens’s multidisciplinary research combines fundamental theoretical work with experiments to address challenging problems in the areas of resource efficiency (energy, water and materials), sustainable chemical production, and health. His unique approach revolves around what he has called Nature-Inspired Chemical Engineering (NICE), that is: to design and build efficient chemical processes, porous catalysts and separation systems, guided by the fundamental mechanism underlying desirable properties, like scalability and robustness, in biological systems, from molecular to macroscopic scales.


He has over 150 peer-reviewed scientific publications, and delivered more than 50 invited keynote and plenary lectures. He provides consultancy, is Editor-in-Chief of Chemical & Engineering Processing: Process Intensification and serves on the Advisory or Editorial Boards of Chemical Engineering Science, Powder Technology, Chemical Engineering & Technology, Diffusion Fundamentals, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Letters, and the European Mathematical Society's Journal of Fractal Geometry.

Nature-Inspired Chemical Engineering (NICE)

By studying natural systems – trees, lungs, cell membranes and bacterial communities – from the perspective of a chemical engineer, the Coppens research group draws clues to design better performing, more sustainable and efficient chemical processes and materials for technological applications. We seek guidance from nature as a starting point in theoretically based, computationally aided, and experimentally validated designs. These designs are optimized for criteria such as, for catalytic systems, maximum chemical yield, selectivity and stability over time. We apply this approach to catalysis and reactor engineering, energy and membrane separation technology.


At the heart of these nature-inspired designs lies a better fundamental understanding and control of physico-chemical phenomena spanning multiple length and time scales. We study effects of heterogeneity and confinement on diffusion and reaction phenomena. We aim to preserve a desired functionality at the micro- or nanoscale up to scales that are of technological relevance. Therefore, we especially focus on patterns and symmetries that are omnipresent in nature, such as fractal structures, which link microscopic with macroscopic scales in a very efficient and intrinsically scalable way.

Source: M.-O. Coppens,
"A nature-inspired approach to reactor and catalysis engineering",
Current Opinion in Chemical Engineering, 2012, 1, 1-9.

Selected Awards (since PhD)

  • Qiushi Chair Professor, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China (2017)
  • Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (2016)
  • 18th Ralph Anderson Lecture, Worshipful Company of Horners (2016)
  • Somer Lecture, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey (2014)
  • Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, FIChemE (2014)
  • EPSRC “Frontier Engineering” Award (5M£) to establish a UCL-based Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering (2013)
  • Rensselaer School of Engineering Award for Innovations in Education (2012)
  • Distinguished Visiting Professorship, East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai (2010)
  • Bent Lecture, University of Missouri (2010)
  • Distinguished Visiting Professorship, Beijing University of Chemical Technology (2009)
  • Best Paper Award AIChE Particle Technology Forum, PTF (with John Nijenhuis and Ruud van Ommen) (2008)
  • Visiting Professor at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Oslo (2008)
  • Accredited Expert on fractal engineering, European Process Intensification Center, EUROPIC (2009)
  • DB Robinson Distinguished Lecture at the University of Alberta, Canada (2005)
  • BNFL Lecturer, Leeds, England (2005)
  • PIONIER Award from the Dutch National Science Foundation, NWO (2002)
  • Young Chemist Award from the Dutch National Science Foundation, NWO (2001)
  • Best Paper Award ASME, 16th International Conference on Fluidized Bed Combustion (2001)
  • Visiting Professor, Tsinghua University, Taiwan (1998)
  • Fellowship, Flemish Foundation for Scientific Research, FWO, in collaboration with the US National Science Foundation, NSF (1996,1997)
  • Fellow of the Belgian American Educational Foundation (1996)
  • Invited Research Fellow and Lecturer, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute for Coal Chemistry (1996)
  • DSM Prize Laureate (1996)
  • Over 40 invited keynote and plenary presentations at international conferences

Other Professional Activities

  • Advisory Board of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia (2011-) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (2013-)
  • AIChE International Committee (vice-Chair, 2010-2012)
  • AIChE Particle Technology Forum Academic Liaison (2012-)
  • Elected Voting Member, Belgian American Educational Foundation (2008-)
  • Editorial Boards of Chemical Engineering Science, Powder Technology, Chemical Engineering & Technology, Diffusion Fundamentals, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Letters, and the European Mathematical Society’s Journal of Fractal Geometry.