News Article | May 12, 2017
Two of the UK’s foremost engineering bodies are urging the next government to put skills, innovation and infrastructure at the heart of a bold new industrial strategy. In manifestos published ahead of the June 8, 2017 election, the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) call on all parties to maximise the potential of the UK’s engineering talent. Both note that the goals set out in their respective documents cannot be achieved over the life of a single parliament, and that long-term strategic thinking is required. The RAEng calls on the incoming government to set a combined public and private R&D target of three per cent, with a ‘willingness to accept the risk of failure, or perceptions of it, in its support for innovation’. Its manifesto notes that education and skills – and increasingly digital skills – are key to future growth, along with vocational training and upskilling. The Academy also calls for the benefits of engineering to spread across the UK, with regional infrastructure and institutions (Catapults, universities etc) receiving the support they require. Infrastructure is also at the core of the ICE’s vision for Britain’s future prosperity. It notes that investment in infrastructure construction has a multiplier effect of around 3X, with both jobs and economic activity receiving a boost. Like the RAEng, the ICE acknowledges the importance of skills to the UK economy, and it calls on the incoming government to avoid a self-inflicted skills crisis by guaranteeing the status of EU nationals working in the UK. The Institution also states that a key aim of Brexit negotiations should be to maintain the UK’s status as a good place to invest in infrastructure. “Effective, efficient and innovative infrastructure is at the heart of a thriving, successful and modern economy,” said ICE director general Nick Baveystock. “The transport, energy and housing that we all depend on would simply not function without it.” “When infrastructure projects flourish, the entire economy benefits. We know that £1 of infrastructure construction raises economic activity by £2.84. The sector also helps boost employment. Every 1,000 direct jobs created by the delivery of new infrastructure boosts wider employment by over 3,000 jobs.”
News Article | May 17, 2017
South African rocket scientist Andre Nel has been selected as a finalist in the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Nel invented a hybrid, solar microgrid solution, the GreenTower Microgrid, which uses 90% less energy to heat water. Only one-third of Africans have access to grid-connected electricity and heating water accounts for the majority of electricity costs in homes and offices. A single unit of the GreenTower Microgrid packaged in insulated recycled shipping containers can service 15 homes, and reduce a community's electricity demand by 65%, considerably easing the pressure on the national power grid. Another finalist, systems engineer Godwin Benson, from Nigeria, developed Tuteria, an online platform that links students to qualified tutors. Users can find tutors within their budget and location to teach them "to play the piano, sew clothes, learn a new language and more". Tutors also cover a range of academic subjects for a range of ages. A Ugandan innovation, the Yaaka Digital Learning Network, also aims to bring education to those who cannot physically access learning institutions. Developed by Africa Prize finalist Hindu Nabulumba and her team, Yaaka is designed like an interactive social network, where teachers and students can share knowledge and materials. In Kenya, where 40% of urban and 60% of rural residents lack access to a safe and reliable water source, the water resource engineer designed the Mobi-Water system to enable water tank owners to monitor and control the water levels in their tanks from any location using their mobile phones. Mobi-Water sends a text message alert to up to ten mobile numbers when water levels drop below a certain point. Users can remotely open and close valves and pumps if they want to refill the tank or redirect the water. The winner of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation will be announced on May 23 and will receive £25 000. Each of the runners-up will receive £10 000 in prize money. Meanwhile, two other South Africans made it into the the top 16 of the competition – James van der Walt with his SolarTurtle mobile power station that provides instant electrification whenever needed; and Dr Wilfred Fritz, who designed the Water&Solar100 lightweight portable solar-cooker that tracks the sun automatically, has temperature and timing controls and generates electricity to charge batteries.
News Article | May 25, 2017
Flash Physics is our daily pick of the latest need-to-know developments from the global physics community selected by Physics World's team of editors and reporters A Venus flytrap's autonomous insect-catching ability has been replicated by a tiny soft robot. To create the device, Arri Priimägi and team from Tampere University of Technology in Finland attached a strip of light-responsive liquid-crystal elastomer to the tip of an optical fibre. Mimicking the Venus flytrap's head, the strip of elastomer is about 10 mm long, 1 mm wide and 20 μm thick. It contains layers of ordered molecules that have a different orientation in each layer – those in the "insect-facing" layer are horizontal while those on the opposite side are vertical. The molecules in between are at an intermediate angle. When light is shone on the elastomer, the molecular alignment becomes random. This causes the insect-facing layer to contract and the other side to expand – in other words, the strip of elastomer bends like a flytrap closing. Usually a light-responsive elastomer requires external illumination, but by attaching the strip to an optical fibre, Priimägi and colleagues integrated a light source. Light shone through the optical fibre and elastomer creates a cone of illumination. When an object such as an insect enters this field of view, light is reflected back in the direction of the elastomer. This thereby triggers the elastomer to bend and close around the object. To release the object, the light is simply turned off. The autonomous device, presented in Nature Communications, could be used for intelligent micro-robotics as well as handling delicate small objects. Huge doughnut-shaped objects made from vapourized rock could be orbiting stars other than the Sun. That is the conclusion of Simon Lock of Harvard University and Sarah Stewart at the University of California, Davis, who have done calculations that suggest a new type of planetary object called a synestia could form when rocky planets collide with each other. Such an object would be about four times the diameter of Saturn's rings and would comprise a ring of rapidly rotating vapourized rock. It would resemble a doughnut, but instead of having a hole in the middle, a synestia would have a dense planet-like object at its centre. Lock and Stewart say a synestia would form when the debris from planetary collisions was both very hot and carrying large amounts of angular momentum. They also suggest that most planets could have been synestias early in their lifetimes. Small planets such as Earth would only spend a few hundred years in this phase before condensing into solid objects. However, larger or hotter objects such as gas-giant planets or even small stars could spend much longer times as synestias. Although synestias have not been observed, the calculations could encourage astronomers to look for huge doughnut-shaped objects alongside rock and gaseous exoplanets. The research is described in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. UK physics received £55m in 2014/2015 from the European Union (EU) according to a report by Technopolis Group – an independent policy research organization. Commissioned by the UK's four national academies – the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society – the report looked at how reliant UK research is on EU funding. The EU's Seventh Framework Programme, which ran from 2007 to 2013, provided UK organizations with around €7bn and its successor – Horizon2020 – is providing around €1.1bn per year. This figure amounts to more than 10% of total UK government support for research and is around 5% of the UK's gross domestic expenditure on R&D. The report finds that UK universities received around £725m in research grants from EU government bodies in 2014/2015, of which £55m was received by both physics and chemistry while the biosciences got £90m. As the top 10 UK universities receive almost half the £725m funding, the report warns that this will be "difficult to replace" after the UK leaves the EU in 2019.
News Article | May 23, 2017
Some academic fields in the United Kingdom will have major funding holes to fill once the country leaves the European Union, according to new research commissioned by four U.K. academies. The Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society commissioned the Technopolis Group, an independent policy research organization, to find out in detail just how reliant U.K. science is on European funding. The €1.1 billion per year that U.K. research now gets from Europe is, the report found, spread across all academic disciplines it analyzed but some fields will have a tougher time than others finding alternative sources. According to the study, U.K. archaeology gets the largest proportion of its funding from Europe (38%), followed by classics (33%) and information technology (IT) (30%). Of the top 15 fields by that measure, only two are natural or physical sciences. But in terms of absolute amounts of money, the rankings are very different: Clinical medicine won the most EU funding in 2014–15 (£120 million), followed by biosciences (£91 million), physics (£55 million), chemistry (£55 million), and IT (£46 million). Though the government has pledged to continue supporting U.K. researchers bidding for European funds during Brexit negotiations, no guarantees have been made that similar amounts of funding will be supplied by the U.K. treasury after the divorce is finalized.
News Article | May 4, 2017
Swaminathan “Vasan” Srinivasan has been elevated to president of Terracon Consultants Inc. from chief operating officer. In the new role, Srinivasan succeeds David Gaboury, who continues as chairman and CEO. An environmental and geotechnical consultant, Terracon ranks at No. 30 on ENR’s list of the Top 500 Design Firms, with $602 million in revenue and 3,500 employees. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, has reappointed Philippe Fauchet to a second five-year term as dean of its school of engineering, beginning on July 1. The school says undergraduate enrollment rose 15% since 2012, and graduate enrollment is up 11%. It had about 2,000 students enrolled as of fall 2015, says its website; about 30% of undergraduates are women. The school also says it is experiencing “negative attrition,” contending that more students are earning undergraduate engineering degrees than the cohort that declared the major as freshmen. U.K.-based contractor Laing O’Rourke plc has named Sir John Parker chairman, effective later this year. He is set to succeed firm founder Ray O’Rourke, who remains CEO. Parker is former president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a visiting fellow at Oxford University. He also held senior roles in several business sectors, including chairman of global mining firm Anglo-American plc, which he left in February. Richard McKinney has joined AECOM as vice president of IT strategy in its management services group’s systems engineering and information solutions business. He had been chief information officer of the U.S. Transportation Dept. and a senior adviser to the secretary of transportation on IT issues.
News Article | May 4, 2017
The government’s plans for the reorganisation of technical education are a good move but there is still much more work to be done A lot has happened in the last few weeks, including International Women’s Day, when I had the privilege of visiting 10 Downing Street for a special reception, hosted by the prime minister. Preceding this was another fascinating meeting, hosted by Chris Skidmore MP, minister for the constitution, on how to include more women in public appointments. The women around the table represented a wide variety of careers, from tech and computing to banking and the military. I wondered what the common spark was that had led us all to this destination from such different contexts and, more importantly, how we can offer the best possible career opportunities and training routes to today’s young people, whatever their gender, abilities, interests or backgrounds. Good career opportunities start with readily available information, and responsibility for providing this currently rests with schools – sadly without any dedicated funding. Coupled with the reduction in the provision of work experience for young people under 16, this has resulted in the disappearance of worthwhile careers information for young people across many schools in England. The industrial strategy green paper promises a new careers education strategy, which is welcome news and vital to our future productivity. Getting it right should result in students making informed decisions, leading to better outcomes for them, for industry and for the economy. One route to better career opportunities is undoubtedly through engineering, where skills are in high demand. A bill is currently passing through Parliament that could revolutionise the way in which it is taught and experienced in colleges, and, in turn, make it more accessible to learners of all abilities and backgrounds. The Technical and Further Education Bill will put into legislation the recommendations of the Post-16 Skills Plan developed in response to an independent panel review of technical and professional education chaired by Lord Sainsbury. Published last year, the Sainsbury panel review aimed to create a simplified progression pathway at age 16 – the Royal Academy of Engineering was an early supporter of the proposals and is ready to help implement the much-needed Skills Plan. The further education sector makes a significant contribution to the engineering skills landscape, yet it has had significantly lower investment over many years than schools, and higher education. However, the chancellor’s recent announcement of an additional £500m a year for the FE sector in the Spring 2017 budget will transform colleges’ ability to deliver the new Skills Plan. For many, it will enable them to increase teaching on their courses from three to five days a week. The Sainsbury review identified a multitude of qualifications in FE of varying quality and value to students. The system was confusing for both young people and employers, and led to a significant decrease in standards. Government has recognised the problems with FE over many years, but successive initiatives to tackle them have run into short-term funding problems and have failed to make sufficient impact. The review recommended developing one qualification or ‘route’ per cluster of occupations, creating 15 distinct progression routes for 16-19 year olds, with the emphasis on occupation-led rather than content-led routes to ensure that the qualifications are as useful, and portable, as possible. The two-year T-levels will incorporate technical skills, plus English and maths at GCSE level and a relevant three-month work experience placement. There will be opportunities for students to transfer between the A-level and T-level routes, and an important new provision of a ‘transition’ year for students who need to improve their GCSE results. Importantly, each route will be shaped by a panel of industry experts. Employers have long reported difficulties in finding entry-level employees with the right skills sets for their needs, and this will provide a means of addressing that challenge. For the engineering and manufacturing route, mapping occupations has been particularly challenging, with 130 discrete occupations for engineering technicians identified and clustered together, each of which corresponds with a current apprenticeship standard or a real technician job offered by a real company. The process has been informed through consultation with employers and other organisations across the engineering community and the next step is to develop the content for the qualifications. The academy will play a leading role in this, working with partners, including the sector bodies, professional engineering institutions, employers and FE colleges. The key challenge in developing these new qualifications is to identify the core knowledge and skills that all technicians need, whatever their specialist area. Some roles will have very different needs to others, so the profession will have to strike a balance in determining what is included in this core content. Ultimately, our aim should be to enable young people and adults to develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of rewarding employment and to meet the demands of a developing and diverse modern economy. The government’s plans for technical education are a big step in the right direction, but much work is needed, to ensure that they result in the step change in skills enhancement that we need in the UK. Dr Hayaatun Sillem is deputy chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering
News Article | May 4, 2017
Engineering students from Bristol University have achieved success in two Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) schemes designed to promote innovation and leadership. On April 5, 2017 Lottie Macnair, Patrick Gregory, Matthew Mears, Robbie Herring and Oscar Radevsky – all final year students on the Engineering Design Programme – were one of five winning teams in the Engineering a Better World Student Innovation Competition and will represent the UK at the Global Grand Challenges Summit to be held in Washington DC in July. In the same week, five third year students – Matthew Curtis, Olivia Daniel, Alex Mulroy, Peter Simmons and Enrico Varano, also from the Engineering Design Programme – secured one of this year’s RAEng Engineering Leaders Scholarships, which are given to around 35 students nationally. The aim of the Engineering a Better World competition is to develop solutions to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and/or America’s National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges. The competition showcase held on 5 April saw teams from 18 universities across the UK pitching their ideas to judges from the Royal Academy of Engineering. The five winning UK teams will compete against students from the US and China in the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Washington DC in July. The Bristol team’s idea, called ‘Wayaround’, is a Google Maps style personalised travel planning service for people with mobility impairments. Currently, transport planning tools such as Google Maps lack vital information on accessibility. Wayaround, however, is a complete route planning service that addresses the specific needs of those with impaired mobility. It takes data on steps, venues, pavement widths, heights, road surfaces, crowds and other issues from a variety of sources to create routes that meet the specific needs of the user. This information can also be fed to urban planners to identify areas in cities that are difficult to access, providing guidance on the design of future developments. Patrick Gregory, a member of the winning team, said: “Being part of the competition has been a great learning experience for all of us. We’ve been able to take the skills and mindset we have developed through our degree and apply them to a real social problem that exists within society.” Dr Theo Tryfonas, a Reader in Smart Cities from the Department of Civil Engineering and the students’ mentor, added: “The UK competition was really tough and the fact that Wayaround secured one of the top spots is a testament to our students’ skills, determination and passion for positive change. The RAEng Engineering Leaders Scholarships allow ambitious, inspiring engineering undergraduates – who want to become leadership role models – to undertake an accelerated personal development programme. To achieve this, the winners receive £5,000 from the RAEng towards training and experience, over a period of three years, to fast track their engineering careers. Following preliminary selection through a written application process, 70 students were invited to the final selection stage at the RAEng in London. This involved a day of interviews and group activities to evaluate not only their leadership potential, but also their drive and commitment to making a positive impact on society through their future engineering careers. Although the support available through the scheme includes assistance from the RAEng in creating personal development plans, the students already have firm ideas for how they would like to use the award. Alex Mulroy, Matthew Curtis and Peter Simmons, all specialising in Civil Engineering, are keen to develop skills in sustainable infrastructure design through conferences, courses and relevant work experience. Olivia Daniel and Enrico Varano, both specialising in Aerospace Engineering, plan to use the scholarship to investigate how their aerospace engineering knowledge can be transferred to other applications.
News Article | May 4, 2017
Flash Physics is our daily pick of the latest need-to-know developments from the global physics community selected by Physics World's team of editors and reporters A giant wave of hot gas twice the size of the Milky Way has been discovered using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, radio observations and computer simulations. The wave is located near the Perseus galaxy cluster – one of the most massive nearby groupings of galaxies that spans 11 million light-years. It is the brightest cluster in terms of X-ray emissions because most of its observable matter is a gas that is so hot (tens of millions of degrees) it only glows with X-rays. Chandra has observed a variety of features in the gas, including a concave "bay" wave. If this structure was a result of bubbles launched by the central galaxy's supermassive black hole, it would emit radio waves. However, observations by the Karl G Jansky Very Large Array in the US showed no such signal. It also could not be the result of "sloshing" gas as it arcs in the wrong direction. To work out the wave's origin, Stephen Walker from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the US and colleagues compared high-resolution observational data with computer simulations of merging galaxy clusters. The resulting simulation begins with a large galaxy cluster (Perseus) that has settled into a "cold" (30 million degrees) central region surrounded by a zone of gas three times hotter. A small galaxy cluster then skirts the larger relative, causing a gravitational disturbance that churns up the gas and creates an expanding spiral of cold gas. Roughly 2.5 billion years later, the gas has spread 500,000 light-years from the centre and massive waves, such as the bay, form and roll at its periphery for hundreds of millions of years before dissipating. In the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the scientists suggest that the waves are giant Kelvin–Helmholtz waves – which occur when there is a velocity difference at the interface of two fluids, such as wind blowing over water. The European X-ray Free Electron Laser (European XFEL) in Hamburg, Germany, has achieved first light. Last month, engineers at the facility sent electrons down the facility's 2.1 km-long superconducting linear accelerator for the first time. After being accelerated, electrons have now been sent through "undulators" to produce X-rays with a repetition rate of one pulse per second. When fully commissioned, the European XFEL will generate pulses of X-rays 27,000 times per second with each pulse lasting less than 100 fs (10–13 s). This will allow researchers to create "movies" of processes such as chemical bonding and vibrational energy flow across materials. Engineers will now continue commissioning the European XFEL – including increasing the facility's repetition rate – ready for first users in September. Scientists in the UK have strong collaborations with their European counterparts, according to a survey carried out by the UK National Academies. The Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society asked more than 1286 fellows and grant recipients about their international collaborations and mobility. They found that 95% had travelled to Europe and 87% collaborated with their European colleagues, while 58% of respondents had spent a year or more working abroad, 64% of whom went to North America. Meanwhile, a separate survey carried out by the Royal Society of 1285 UK-based scientists found that 72% had trained or worked abroad, while 80% of non-UK national researchers that were working in the UK were from the European Union or North America. The Royal Society survey also reported that women are less likely to work abroad than men. Some 39% of men say they had spent more than three years working outside of the UK compared to 25% for women.
News Article | February 17, 2017
Researchers at Queen’s University in Belfast have developed simulation tools which will help to improve the safety of the latest generation of carbon fiber airplanes, formula one racing cars and future lightweight family cars. During the €4 million European study the researchers will work with Bombardier Aerospace Belfast, McLaren-Honda F1 and Fiat to develop safer and more efficient ways to use lightweight carbon fiber composites in their designs. According to Professor Brian Falzon, Royal Academy of Engineering Bombardier Chair in Aerospace Composites, the research could allow companies in the aerospace, automotive and rail industries to try new designs virtually, ruling out any safety concerns without having to incur huge costs in physically testing these designs. Through the project, researchers will explore the development of new generations of composite materials, using nanotechnology, which could improve safety even further. ‘At Queen’s, we are training the next generation of researchers in this area and have developed a cutting-edge computer system which uses virtual testing to predict how carbon fiber composites will react when impacted, when crushed, or when put under extreme loading – allowing for improved crashworthiness design and reducing impact to passengers,’ said Professor Falzon. ‘Using mathematics and computer software, our Advanced Composites Research Group at Queen’s has developed a system which is as close to reality as possible and can pick up problems that may not always be visible, such as internal wing damage on a plane which may occur during operation. By understanding the failure mechanisms of composite materials such as carbon fiber, we are able to better exploit their unique properties and create very lightweight transportation structures. This will minimise environmental impact whilst ensuring utmost safety to passengers.’ This story is reprinted from material from Queen's University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.
News Article | February 15, 2017
A £1 million engineering prize has been awarded to the creators of digital imaging technology now used in everything from medical sensors to smartphone cameras. The winners of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering were announced at a ceremony at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London on Wednesday, and are Eric Fossum, George Smith, Nobukazu Teranishi, and Michael Tompsett. They worked on three technologies that made the cameras we use today possible. Smith worked with Willard Boyle, now deceased, to develop the charged couple device (CCD) at Bell Labs in the US in the 1970s. Tompsett then realised this could have applications as an image sensor. CCD sensors were used in early digital cameras, and work by producing electrical signals when they detect light. Teranishi invented the pinned photodiode (PPD) in 1980, while at the NEC Corporation in Japan. The PPD is a type of semiconductor that made it possible to capture images of higher quality. The following decade, Fossum and his team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked on complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensor technology. Originally developed to make cameras used on spacecraft smaller and lighter, CMOS sensors require much less power than CCD sensors. This has led to the development of small cameras in smartphones and even “pill cameras” that can image the inside of the body when swallowed. Speaking at a press conference before the award ceremony, Tompsett said that the strangest application he had heard of for the image sensing technology came from a group who wanted to insert a camera into the uterus of a sheep, “to observe ovulation or something”. Fossum said he had never imagined the technology becoming popular for taking selfies or “silly cat videos”. Together, the winners’ contributions to image sensors have “truly transformed the way we look at the world,” said Christopher Snowden, chairman of the award’s judging panel, noting that “there are “literally trillions of these devices in the world today.” Fossum, who is currently working on image sensors that count individual photons, says the technology will continue to develop to capture images of even higher quality and make more and more applications possible.