I am interested in the ways in which organisms interact with the physical world, particularly in their structural engineering. I have investigated the mechanical design of insect wings and plant root systems and the mechanical defences of grasses, but recently I have become particularly fascinated with wood. We have been studying how and why branches fracture, how trees strengthen their forks and how primates build their nests in trees.
In the last few years I have also worked on the environmental benefits of trees in urban areas, and their role in climate-proofing our cities. We have been investigating how the cooling, shading and flood-prevention benefits they provide are affected by the species of tree and the growing conditions. All this will help us appreciate the importance of man’s long relationship with trees and with the wood they produce.