Dan Ridley-Ellis is head of the Centre Wood Science and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University.
He is one of the UK’s technical experts on guessing the strength of wood and can talk for hours on the topic – which he frequently does if nobody stops him.
His main area of research is understanding the properties of wood, and how they are influenced by tree growth, forest management, and climate. He can be most often heard debunking commonly held misconceptions about speed of tree growth, ring width, density and strength – particularly in relation to UK-grown timber. These mostly annoy him because his job would be so much easier if they were true.
Dan represents the UK at European Standards Committees for grading of construction timber, and the majority of structural sawn timber produced in the UK is now graded with settings he developed.
He was named “woodland hero” for 2016 by Grown in Britain, and was part of the team that won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Edinburgh Napier University in 2015.
Dan is also the lead organiser of Bright Club Edinburgh, which trains academics, and others with specialist knowledge, to perform interesting stand-up comedy about their work and entertain a paying audience. As with wood, nobody is completely sure why it works.
Dan’s favourite bits of wood science are the rule breaking ones. For example, Gnetum gnemon wood (melinjo and other common names) is used for house construction in Malaysia and Hong Kong. The wood contains fibre tracheids and vessels, but this species does not belong in the hardwood (angiosperms) group. It belongs to the gymnosperms plant group alongside conifers (softwoods) and ginko. Some of the extinct Progymnosperm trees did have wood rather like modern softwoods, but reproduced with spores rather than seeds (like ferns) and so would not be classed as softwoods (or indeed trees) by many wood scientist’s definitions. Conifers, are generally also referred to as evergreens, but not all of them are. The notable exception are the larches, but there are other examples, such as bald cypress and dawn redwood.