Graduation Ceremonies

Graduation success for bamboo research student

Colombian PhD student Hector Archila Santos will graduate with a PhD from the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering on Tuesday 8 December 2015 (3pm) adding to his recent accolade of World Bamboo Ambassador.

Building upon previous experience

Hector came to the University of Bath in 2010 to pursue a doctoral research programme on structurally engineered bamboo for construction. This built upon his previous experience of using bamboo in its cylindrical form as the main structural support of several earthquake proof houses and structures in Colombia. For seven years he designed, managed and built around 30,000 square foot of new builds in Colombia and acquired valuable knowledge of the material.

Guadua angustifolia bamboo

The tropical bamboo Guadua angustifolia (the species with which Hector is most familiar and focussed on during his PhD studies), is an extraordinary plant that produces vast amounts of biomass and absorbs CO2 very quickly, thanks to its fast growth rate and short maturation cycle. Growing up to 85 feet in height and eight inches in diameter, it can be used in construction after reaching maturity within four years. Guadua is capable of absorbing six times more CO2 when compared to Oak over a 50 year period.

Compared to timber and steel, Guadua is a versatile, aesthetically pleasing and relatively strong construction material which lends itself favourably to the building of many types of structures. Furthermore, as a renewable resource with a rapid growth cycle, it has an important environmental role to play in preventing rainforest deforestation as it offers an ideal alternative to the use of tropical hardwoods.

Emerging research area

The development of bamboo as a construction material is an emerging area of academic and industrial research which attracts more attention every year from the international community. During his PhD, Hector devised an innovative system to convert the typically awkward cylindrical bamboo into a regular and easily industrialised form by converting the canes into flat cross-laminated panels. This approach combined the benefits of using the readily renewable natural material with the advantages of a refined, custom-made engineered product.

Unlike common building methods using bamboo canes, these cross-laminated panels are easier to specify for building (thanks to their more predictable structural behaviour), are more durable and could potentially be used as the main structural support in multi-storey buildings. Hector has liaised and collaborated with fellow researchers at various research centres and written several peer-reviewed journal and conference papers as the main author. He has also presented his pioneering work at six international conferences and received special recognition for his presentations at the Forest Product Society International Convention in Canada and the NOCMAT international conference in Brazil.

Support from Colombia

Hector’s PhD study was made possible by his successful procurement of a variety of scholarships, loans and travel grants. Hector, who has a Diploma in architecture from the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, received a one year loan-scholarship from Colfuturo. This foundation sponsors Colombian students to study abroad, equipping them with experience and skills to enable them to further contribute to the economic and social development of Colombia.

Hector also received a full scholarship from by Colciencias, the Colombian government research council, as well as financial support by Amphibia Group Ltd, a Colombian engineering and architectural consultancy. During his PhD he was also granted support for research activities and associated travel by Santander and The Worshipful Company of Armourers & Brasiers. Hector was recently invited as speaker to the World Bamboo Congress in Korea and the International Bamboo Symposium in Colombia.

‘Challenging but grateful’

Hector in the lab during one of his tests.

Commenting on graduating after five years of study at Bath, Hector said: “Having been in industry for seven years in Colombia without much contact with academia, coming to do a PhD at the University of Bath was a real challenge. It provided me with the opportunity to expand my knowledge, working across disciplines in areas of science and engineering that I had never worked in before which exposed me to a more comprehensive and international environment for testing my ideas.

“In consequence, the work I undertook at Bath was the result of a mixture of factors involving my previous experience with bamboo, exceptional guidance from my supervisors, access to an international network of fellow researchers and many hours of extended discussions with colleagues and staff at the University.

Upon graduating, I will not simply take away a title or a 300 page dissertation, but a renewed passion for research, for questioning and finding answers beyond the obvious, for collaborating across disciplines and even listening to what may at first sound absurd. I am extremely grateful to the University, my supervisors, sponsors, colleagues, friends, family and all the people that accompanied me on this journey.”

Dr Martin Ansell, Reader in the Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering supervised Hector’s PhD. He added: “Hector’s practical experience in construction with bamboo, particularly the Guadua angustifolia species, and research on bamboo composites has been widely recognised through several awards, including scholarships and travel grants. These gave him the opportunity to further his studies, network with fellow researchers and present his work abroad. This is testament to his personal and professional determination and leadership. I wish him the best of luck in his future career.”

Beyond his PhD

Most recently, Hector has been granted £35,000 from SETsquared to carry out market research into the commercialisation of his PhD work in the UK. He has also received a Ned Jaquith foundation grant for further research and is currently leading the expansion of Amphibia Group Ltd’s operations internationally through the establishment of a UK branch.

Hector is also member of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan’s Task Force on Bamboo Construction and has recently been honoured as a World Bamboo Ambassador by the World Bamboo Organisation. For both appointments he provides support on reviewing technical reports, revising documents on international standards and applying for research funds.

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Rob Breckon
University Press Office
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