Engineering and design student insights

Student projects, placements, research and study experiences in the Faculty of Engineering & Design

My semester abroad in Brisbane

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📥  Department of Chemical Engineering, Undergraduate

Author: Nicola Morris

When I first applied to study at Bath I knew I wanted to do my research project abroad, it’s a rare opportunity for engineers that I knew I had to take! I originally wanted to go to Toulouse because the projects sounded perfect, but I also managed to secure a place at the University of Queensland, Australia. Anyway the Toulouse application fell through and all of a sudden I was booking a flight to Aussie land. Moving to the other side of the world sounded a little drastic, but here I am, and I’m so happy with my decision.

So in 2 days’ time I’ll have been here for 5 weeks! Time is going crazily fast and now I’ve found a weekly routine I feel completely settled in. The campus is beautiful, I’ve joined some societies and I’m happy with where I’m living! Before I moved here I contacted my Dad’s relatives who live in Brisbane, just to say hi, it turned out him and his wife had a spare room and were more than happy for me to stay with them! I’m living quite far away from Uni which is the only snag, it takes me an hour to commute but it means I get to take the ferry every day! In Brisbane the CityCat ferry service is very popular and is a great way to get around. Personally the novelty of travelling to Uni by boat every day still hasn’t worn off, I sit outside on the deck in the sun with the wind whipping through my hair smiling to myself, definitely beats First buses!

The project is pretty chilled as well, the days in the lab are long but we manage our own time and have a lot of independence. As ‘occupational trainees’ we are technically staff so we’ve even got our own office! I enjoy the fact the project feels more like a job than Uni, after 5pm I can switch off and go home without feeling any guilt! It’s also great because the weekends are 100% our own, so we’re taking trips to different places and just generally having a great time. 2 weeks ago we visited the Gold Coast, we took the train for an hour south and spent a night in a backpacker’s hostel – which is an experience by the way if you haven’t stayed in one before. We had an amazing beach day, then after a game of beer pong and rage cage (if you don’t know what that is you’re missing out) we headed out. The Gold Coast has good nightlife for the record. Last weekend we went to Byron bay, which was also an awesome place. It’s a lot less commercial than the Gold Coast but the beach is just as good, it’s a popular backpacker’s destination and has quite an alternative vibe - very cool. The highlight was trekking up to the lighthouse on 3 hours sleep to watch the sunrise from the most easterly point of Australia. Definitely make the effort to do things like that! It was a surreal experience and I’ll never forget it.

brisbane1

So the project continues, the work is interesting but days in the lab are tiring and take a lot of patience, but knowing that we’ve got beach plans for the weekend makes it very easy to tolerate! Last semester was very challenging and stressful, so I’m happy to say that I am having the time of my life right now, it’s such a breath of fresh air.

Reader, if you are considering travelling or going on exchange but aren’t sure, I’ll relieve you from your reservations… go! Even if you’re anxious, even if the first few weeks are tough, I assure you you’ll have the time of your life.

brisbane2

 

What is Engineering?

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📥  Department of Mechanical Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Authors: Katie Barraclough, Jamie Bayliss, Sammee Bhatti, Tom Binks and Andy Brooker (first year mechanical engineering students)


Our departmental competition winning video: What is Engineering?
Watch the video on Vimeo.
The competition brief

We were asked to create a short, educational video to inform school children of what engineering is. Which is important because engineering isn’t something which is taught in schools, so there is not much awareness of it. There wasn’t much else that was specified so there was quite a lot of freedom in what we could do, which benefited us as a group. We gelled from the start, we all get on. Having the tutor meetings helped to get everyone together. If we’d have had different ideas of what to do then it might have been harder, but we all wanted to get it done as quickly and simply as possible, and it just fell into place.

Developing our concept

We made an online group chat so everyone knew what was going on all the time. This meant we could do our bits without all meeting together at the same time, which was a lot more convenient. We researched some stuff beforehand, different points of view on engineering.  It helped a lot that we had similar ideas of what we wanted to do.  We all agreed early on that nobody wanted to be standing in front of the camera and talking. So we decided to narrate over drawings, illustrating our idea of what engineering is, and Katie’s drawing skills were excellent. We planned it as a group and then gave each of us a role - it was like a production line. It was a fairly quick process in the end.

The best bit

When we watched it for the first time – seeing the finished product was definitely the most enjoyable part of the project. We’d all done different bits so it was good to see it all come together.  It was also great winning the competition, though we groaned when we realised we would have to go up on stage to receive it.

Our top tips for next year entrants

Try and do something different, to grab the attention of whoever’s watching. Make it stand out. Something unique. And don’t overstress it – keep it simple. It’s the first couple of weeks of university when there are lots of things going on, so don’t make it the be all and end all, just have fun doing it.

 

Everyday tales for country folk...

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

cornflowers

I have been a city dweller for most of my life but my early childhood was rural with a herd of Friesian cows as immediate neighbours and the woods closer than the village shops. With such a background, The Archers has always felt like catching up with old friends and it was a terrible shock when the village suffered a devastating flood in March 2015. Time was suspended, in Ambridge at least, as the events of a single night were dramatised over several episodes. After the waters subsided the causes and consequences of the flood continued to be explored, intensely at first then periodically, as the village recovered and reflected.

Individual and community stories can be a useful source of information for understanding flood events but need to be used with care to ensure that they do not compromise privacy, security or wellbeing. This makes a dramatised story, where the reactions and responses of fictional characters can be explored in detail, very useful as the basis for considering how resilience measures might be developed and deployed.

One aspect of the flood that has been revisited has been the involvement of a certain Rob Titchener. He had been implicated in blocking a culvert that contributed to the extent of the flooding; he had been reluctant to help with rescue then hailed a hero for his actions; and there was suspicion over his involvement in the fate of a dog, Scruff, as well as the later disappearance of a migrant worker, Stefan. These were woven in to the larger scenario of his coercive relationship with Helen Archer, which reached a shocking conclusion last year.

It was as this story played out, that I discovered Academic Archers - a forum where storylines were discussed not just for their entertainment value but by experts with an intellectual interest in the storylines. So when a call for papers to be presented at a second conference was made, just days after characters had been discussing the drying times of their properties near the River Am, I took a deep breath and submitted an abstract.

By fortuitous timing, the Flood Resilient House at BRE Watford was launched just a week before the conference. Speaking to assembled built environment and insurance professionals before opening the house, Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, emphasised the need for personal responsibility and welcomed the project as an opportunity to demonstrate and test solutions.

BRE FR House

This provided some useful details and photographs to use in my talk alongside mapping from fan fiction.  The house also featured on BBC Countryfile the next day though I am not sure how many of the audience will have seen it as the first section (08:30-16:30) was during the Sunday evening episode of The Archers!

DSC_0127 (2)

 

Bringing engineering to the Basil Spence project

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Zach Wynne


The 2016 Basil Spence brief

  • To evoke in visitor, user and designer the mystique and splendour of the railway station as a building type.
  • To use the station as a catalyst in the renewal (both physical and social) of the part of Oxford in which it sits.
  • To amplify the possibilities of station as a typology.
  • To foster a thoughtful and mutually respectful integration of the disciplines of engineering and architecture in order to achieve the above.

Our winning design

Our winning design for the Basil Spence project evolved naturally from our initial idea, that our station building should be a celebration of Oxford's literary heritage. We took the elements that were strong, that we believed were the core of our design and we refined and strengthened them, allowing the ideas to change naturally. At the same time we were ruthless when something felt like it didn't work, it was radically altered, no matter how long we'd spent working on it.

We agreed at the beginning of the project that this was our chance to do something bold and radical with both the architecture and engineering.

Perspective of the prosposed railway station

Perspective of the prosposed railway station

Overcoming design challenges in multidisciplinary teams

It was wonderful to see how different people with different specialties approached the same design challenges. This allowed the design to be fully integrated right from the start as people could identify issues early on, allowing them to be addressed in the design process and not worked around later in the project. It exposed me to new ideas and allowed me to work with a group of architects who were all wonderful, talented and patient people.

The project allowed me to develop my ability to work as part of a multidisciplinary team and to come up with radical solutions to challenging problems that encompassed not only innovative and honest engineering, but fitted with the architectural intent of the project and added to the overall scheme. I also had the opportunity to experience the wonders and heartbreaks involved with casting concrete and plaster architectural models.

A perfect culmination to my university education

“I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly; “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”― Lewis Carroll

This project has allowed me to delve into fields of research I never believed I would encounter; I have learnt the life cycle patterns of the endangered Euphydryas Aurinia butterfly, provided preliminary designs on a drainage system based on medieval agricultural earth works and been given the freedom to explore and provide feasible design work in areas outside of my comfort zone. I've been able to push the envelope of what was thought possible.

The beauty of this project is the removal of boundaries, to be encouraged to explore avenues which have thus far remained closed and which may never open again. I am proud of the work presented in this project. I believe it represents a perfect culmination to my university education, a summation of all work undertake in four and a half long years.

Section view of the railway station

A section view of our project

A civil engineer working with architects

My heartfelt gratitude to my architects; Matt McClusky, Emma Moberg and Helen Needs, for their undying patience and support. Most of all I would like to thank them for treating me as an equal in all aspects of the project; whether architectural precedent, scale modelling or design integration. I have never worked with a group of people who were as wonderful, caring and gifted. They made the long hours which this project entailed not only bearable but enjoyable.

 

It started with a car...

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📥  Department of Chemical Engineering, Undergraduate

Author: Claire Guest


I was asked to write a poem about the student experience at the University of Bath for our 50th anniversary celebration in the Abbey, but doing it concisely wasn’t easy. I felt like I could have written the entire piece on the blessing Google is to students who can’t cook. I wanted to express how much university has changed me, and in ways I didn’t expect. My time at Bath has taught me not just how to be a chemical engineer, but also how to be an adult!

I would like to thank Lucy English, who helped me to edit my piece and Alex Homewood for giving me this amazing opportunity.

Watch the video on Vimeo.

 

The shed – a short essay on architecture and society

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Think the shed hasn't made its mark on architecture and society? Think again...


Introduction

A large proportion of talk from us researchers is about the value of our research, why it’s cool and how it could help sort out a lot of the world’s big problems. And so we should talk in such a way. But once in a while, it’s refreshing and invigorating to divert our gaze from the lofty questions and terrible predicaments of our age – and seek something new in a familiar design.

In the spirit of one of my literary heroes, Alain de Botton, I shall take you through a short illustrated essay to restore the dignity of that architecturally misunderstood, true friend of humanity – the shed.

What contributions has the shed made to architecture and society? Bob Harvey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What contributions has the shed made to architecture and society?
Bob Harvey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the shed is rather narrow, focussing on the domestic garden or tool-shed...

“A slight structure built for shelter or storage, or for use as a workshop, either attached as a lean-to a permanent building or separate; often with open front or sides.”

… so I shall expand my scope to include warehouses and their ilk, arguably siblings of the domestic shed. Are you ready? Let's begin...


Familiarity

Breeds contempt! The shed has an unfortunate association with either domestic or working drudgery, so it is prudent to remind ourselves that it has been revolutionary in human history. It has enabled us to store our harvests - it would be hard to overstate the influence of this in the development of civilisation. My personal favourite example of this ‘early revolutionary shed’ has to be the Egyptians’ Granary structure in the popular PC game, Age of Empires. I don’t know of its archaeological accuracy, but what a thing of beauty!

Granary of the Egyptian civilisation in the Stone Age, as portrayed in Age of Empires I. Courtesy of Microsoft Studios.

Granary of the Egyptian civilisation in the Stone Age, as portrayed in Age of Empires I. Courtesy of Microsoft Studios.

Our ability to store food in warehouses is still vitally important today. How easy it is to take all this once revolutionary technology for granted today.

Although less true for foodstuffs, much is made of the influence of the digital retail economy’s influence on the urban built environment - its erosion of high streets and town centres. But it’s false to suggest that the web has dispensed with the need for retail buildings altogether. The enormous warehouses belonging to retail giants such as Amazon, Tesco, and notoriously, Sports Direct, are now the physical link in the fiendish process of sourcing and despatching products to and from around the world. Whether you love, loathe or tolerate them, these corporate behemoths who facilitate much of our daily lives with their logistical feats are, at the end of the day, still dependent upon the humble shed.

The enormous Sports Direct HQ and warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, UK.

The enormous Sports Direct HQ and warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, UK. Ian Paterson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Atmosphere

Many domestic sheds across the land are witness to nothing more remarkable than lawnmowers, long-forgotten trampolines and perhaps the odd model railway set, yet the shed is the prime haven for the discoverer and inventor.

Is it the freedom from distraction, protection from mocking voices or simply convenience has made the domestic shed the place of so much human ingenuity? Whatever its x-factor is, it has been birthplace for a plethora of advances, as diverse as Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie’s early experiments on new elements to Sir James Dyson’s invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner.

The inspirational and architectural potential of the shed as resurged in recent years - perhaps by people seeking something lacking in their homes.

Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie doing some Nobel-Prize winning work in their shed.

Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie doing some Nobel-Prize winning work in their shed.


Aesthetics

Cobwebs and some slightly wonky pine slats are de rigeur for most domestic sheds, whilst numbingly vast sheets of corrugated sheet metal are the look of choice for their industrial brethren. But this has not always been the case, and still is not always so. I shall use counter-examples that I have encountered on my travels in Somerset.

The Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon impresses firstly by scale - it stands 51 metres long and 9.5 metres wide. Venturing inside, it reveals its astonishing craftsmanship – a timber cruck roof, most of which has survived from the 14th century, supported by the buttressed walls of fine limestone. Perhaps such grandeur is unsurprising, as it was built to serve Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset, at that time the richest nunnery in England. Although I’m glad to see the back of the feudal system it facilitated, surely there is no finer shed then this in the land?

The stunning cruck roof of the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon, Somerset, UK. Courtesy of English Heritage.

The stunning cruck roof of the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon, Somerset, UK. Courtesy of English Heritage.

In more recent history is the Bath branch of discount supermarket Lidl, built in 1966-67. Originally built as a factory for a manufacturer of office furniture, I have judiciously deemed it an honourary member of the shed family as it was built as a single interior space. What makes it special is only visible once inside – influenced by the style of Mies van der Rohe, it was the first building in Britain to make use of Mero space frame technology for its roof trusses. On a social level, it was architecturally notable for having no partitions between craftspeople and managers. Converted to a Lidl within the last 5 years, one can admire the spectacular geometry above your head whilst in an achingly long checkout queue.

The roof trusses of Lidl in Bath, using a Mero space frame. Courtesy of Phil Turton / Historic England.

The roof trusses of Lidl in Bath, using a Mero space frame. Courtesy of Phil Turton / Historic England.


Conclusions

This statement might seem cheesier than a budget Parmesan - but sheds are really a lot like us humans. Though often seemingly dull, they often have the capacity to dazzle, either in the appearance or the activities they facilitate. And even when they really do seem dull, they fulfil critical functions in our societies incredibly well. How we’d miss them if they were gone.

 

Final blog post about my time at DTU, Copenhagen

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering

Hello,

I thought it would be a good idea to do one final blog post about my time in Copenhagen, as I have now finished at the Danish Technical University. If anyone is hesitant or unsure about whether to go for this opportunity, my advice would be to go for it!!!! I would recommend it 100% and I have had an absolutely amazing time in Denmark! I was quite sad to be leaving in the end! It has been really interesting and fun to meet lots of new people, see a new city/country, live abroad for the first time and not forgetting to study in a new way/style!

I think my last blog post was during the autumn break you get whilst studying at the University. Since this point, the work load did pick up considerably and around Christmas it became very busy, but I thought this was also due to the fact that this was when I was applying for Graduate Schemes for next year and completing interviews which took up a considerable amount of time. Not just because the workload being so heavy, it is unattainable to keep up with. However, personally I feel that being abroad does not hinder any applications at all; it is just different. This because no one around you is applying for jobs at the same time so you really have to look at balancing your time effectively. I have also had to fly home a few times for interviews/assessment centres and I have found that companies were fine with reimbursing me for flights and train travel in England. It was just a bit of a hassle. So don’t let this put you off! Also it is a really good conversation opener, when they ask how far have you had to travel in today and they seemed really interested by Copenhagen.

I will start by talking about my accommodation. As mentioned the accommodation by the University is extremely lacking and unorganised! Finding something private in town is a bit tricky but I wouldn’t say completely unachievable. I ended up really loving my student halls (Tingbjerg Terraserne), it was nice to share with people studying different degrees at different universities in the city and it was very social. The halls were of a lot higher standard than others I visited across Copenhagen, and the rooms were a really good size. The location wasn’t perfect, but certainly had the best of both. We were a 40 minute cycle away from the University which wasn’t so bad and then 30 minutes into town (a really nice cycle in, through a nice part of the town too). I felt this was probably the best place to be for us, as we were not so far away from town that we wouldn’t go in but were not so far away University either! Maybe the summer weather would have made the cycle easier!

The social side of the Erasmus placement was really fun! There was always something to do and see, or people to go out with! The nightlife in Copenhagen was more restricted than Bath to Thursday through to Saturday night realistically (not something every night it seemed); however it was a good night out with plenty of bars and clubs. Also the University organised a lot of nights for us to get involved in. Everyone is in the same boat as you, so are really keen to get involved - so don’t worry about not knowing anyone. The city itself is really amazing, I was lucky to have a lot of friends over for weekends and I never ran out of anything new to show people or see. There are some very cool regions/districts with lots of cafes and bars, meaning that there is something for everyone.  Also, as I had worked over summer, I managed to get about at weekends too, doing road trips around the country and across to Sweden – which if you can you should take advantage of.

The studying at the University was certainly very different to at home, with four hour blocks for each module just once a week. However by the end I did quite enjoy this style – as it meant you could get straight onto the tutorial and get help from the teachers. I will run through (Briefly) my thoughts on the modules I took before Christmas and then talk about the 3 week intensive course you can do in January.

Sustainable Buildings – A 10 Credit module (Double) but I would recommend this module which has a very strong building environment focus. It uses software such as IDA ICE and Heat 2 to build up to designing a “Nearly Zero Energy Building” to Danish standards. I found the lectures and assignments very interesting, and once you get your head around the software and what is being asked of you – it is really enjoyable. If you keep up with the deadlines (This course is all assignments) throughout the term, it makes it achievable as you develop your skills for the next assignment.

Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics – I personally really liked this module, it had a petroleum engineering and tunnelling focus for the application of geotechnics. I found this really interesting that all the lecture material was related to real life situations and to applied situations. The exam (100% exam) was very tough I will admit, but despite this the lecturer and teaching assistant were really nice.

Structural Analysis – This module again is 100% coursework, using Danish building codes to design an office and retail structure. It takes it a lot further than that taught during second year and some of the assignments were tricky. Each week you have a new assignment to complete, which you then write up at the end of term. This is very taxing, as it actually takes a long time to write up! Therefore budget your time for this alongside your revision. However I would recommend you take this module.

Smart, Connected and Liveable Cities – I didn’t really enjoy this module. The assignments themselves were really interesting, however, the lectures were not related to them at all and just general knowledge which personally I felt were very dull – I didn’t look forward to Tuesday afternoons! The assignments consisted of writing a book review on George Orwells 1984 focusing on urban design, writing a dystopian story again focusing on urban design. We also had a group report and presentation on a topic of your choice, from which we choose to do city resilience to climate change. In particular we focused on rising sea levels and looked at the viability of options such as floating cities or floodable cities. In the end this worked really well for me, as my group was with five really nice and good people. But I could imagine you may get a bit unstuck doing this, as a few of the presentations were quite poor. The work load was heavy; however, don’t let my view completely put you off – as a few people really enjoyed the lectures.

As I have mentioned before you have to take 30 credits at DTU, I opted (along with the others from Bath) to do 25 before Christmas and a 5 credit “intensive course” after Christmas. This module was environmental engineering in developing countries. I personally really wanted to come back after Christmas, as it helped to reduce the work load before the holidays and gave me more time in Denmark to enjoy it! However, if you choose not to, you would get a very long holiday till when you get back to Bath. This January option isn’t taken up by most people, as a lot of my friends (nearly all from DTU) left before Christmas so there wasn’t many of us left after but despite this it was still fun! The course itself was really interesting (in 9-5 every day) looking at methods to improve sanitation, water supply and waste management. There were really good guest lecturers nearly every day, and the assignment in groups was a real life case study in an area of the world, to improve these things so it was very interesting. We had a final report as a hand in, with weekly presentations on our progress and also weekly tests to make sure we were turning up. I would certainly recommend this course, as it gets you back to Denmark (Also for New Year’s celebrations (as the course started on the 2nd) which was something very different to home!!!) and is enjoyable.

The only one slight negative I would say about the whole Erasmus experience is the price in Denmark. I worked for 13 weeks over summer before I went out there, so I didn’t struggle too bad. But, Denmark is an expensive place so just be prepared and it won’t be such a shock! But don’t let this put you off, just try to work a little over summer before you get here!!!

I really hope these blog posts have inspired you to do Erasmus at DTU, as I do not regret going one bit and I have really enjoyed it! It has been a great experience and I have made lots of friends who I will definitely see again.  One big word of advice would be to go and get involved in everything, especially the introduction week as this is where I met a lot of my friends from the whole time there!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask and I will be more than happy to help.

 

Lifelong Learning - sharing a love of Structures

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Clifton Suspension Bridge from the Observatory platform

Every student is different but mature students have had more time than most to accumulate differences! In my case, I have returned to study having worked in practice, qualified as a Chartered Structural Engineer, had children and taught at a post-92 University. But in each stage of this traverse through my portfolio career, I have been grateful for the support and inspiration of the Institution of Structural Engineers. This has included, but by no means been limited to, technical talks offering a window on others' experience. It is perhaps easy to take these for granted with the luxury of a choice of research seminars and talks on campus almost every week, but for Engineers outside research-intensive Universities the talks provide a valuable connection and opportunity for professional development. However, as a parent, it can be difficult to attend meetings, even when they are local. Six pm starts are great for those able to go straight from work but are not so easy when the logistics of juggling after school and evening childcare means dashing home before hand!

So I was delighted to see that the Institution of Structural Engineers President’s Inaugural Address this year was to be made available on Livestream. It was still challenging to get the children rounded up and fed for 6pm so it was a few minutes after that I tuned in but without the embarrassment of clunking doors and finding the last remaining seat. And as a remote viewer, fire evacuation procedures were of limited relevance in any case! By the time 2017 President, Ian Firth, started speaking, I was happily settled and beginning to appreciate further benefits. As a shorter than average Engineer, I am used to seeing only part of presentation slides unless the lecture theatre has a particularly generous rake or I have managed to get right to the front. This time I could see every slide and hear every word. The talk itself was interesting and entertaining; well worth catching up with as a webinar if you missed it live.

But an unexpected benefit of an evening webinar was revealed later. I’ve previously tended to join lunchtime events, linking to ICE Yorkshire for Jenny Cooke’s "Lunch and Learn" talk on Communicating Climate Change (still available) and to the BRE for an update on Peter Bonfield’s Property Flood Resilience Action Plan. These took place whilst my children were at school but with an evening meeting they were at home. My son first walked through as pictures of buildings following natural disasters were on the screen. He quickly concluded that Structural Engineers were not yet rivalling Danger Mouse in keeping London safe and returned to the TV. However, about a quarter of an hour later he rejoined me, just as Ian Firth was talking about the need for bridges in poor developing societies. This really grabbed his attention, not just because the children were of a similar age but because he also relies on a bridge for his daily walk to and from school, across the River Frome in Bristol.

Boy crossing river on an old footbridge

Hapenny Bridge across the River Frome, Bristol

He continued to watch with me through to the end, though was rather dismissive of the Robot Bridge Building as he’d seen it all before on Dick & Dom’s Absolute Genius: Monster Builds! The next day on our walk to school, we were able to discuss the talk further and think about how he would improve the bridge. This led rather neatly into a weekend where we saw both Second Severn Crossing and the Clifton Suspension Bridge from unusual perspectives.

Second Severn Crossing from Spaniorum

A privileged view of the Second Severn Crossing

So thank you IStructE for allowing me the opportunity to see such an interesting talk - and thank you Ian Firth for inspiring not only me but a 10 year old who is already considering whether he might be able to follow Brunel beyond the Avon Gorge.

An edited version of this blog is available on the IStructE website

 

HIGH DENSITY POLYURETHANE FOAMS

  

📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

My PhD project, looking at materials suitable for 3D printing buildings using swarming aerial robots, began with investigating low density, expanding polyurethane foam ‘LD40’ (a) manufactured by the company Isothane. Now it is the turn of high density polyurethane foams, and the studies have used Reprocell 300 (b) and Reprocell 500 (c), commercially available foams manufactured by the same company.

foam

While LD40 is established in the construction industry as an insulating material, the higher density foams are not readily associated with construction. Reprocell 300 is usually found as a substitute for timber in prop and set design along with applications such as balustrades and mantelpieces, whereas Reprocell 500 is primarily used for deep sea buoyancy applications.

Blocks of foam created so that the materials may be tested in line with the British standards, have been primarily made by hand mixing on the high density foams, such as the compressive strength test specimens shown in the figure.

Through trial and error, I arrived at a recipe for making the high density specimens. Firstly, I heat the two liquid components (one resin, one hardening agent) to 30°C, pour together and hand-mix for 90 seconds. The creamy, viscous liquid then turns a darker brown and becomes much less viscous as the mixed liquid heats up and the polymerisation process begins. I then stir again until the 150 second mark, at which point the material expands. A few more careful stirs then follow until I withdraw and the material quickly hardens, becoming solid at 180 seconds and feeling like a block of concrete.

This recipe has produced specimens which exceed the density stated in the manufacturer’s literature, most notably with the Reprocell 500 (specimens average 685 kg/m3). Compressive tests on the 500 have shown strength in excess of 30 MPa, astonishingly competitive with concrete. Flexural tests have also shown strengths indicating the material is competitive with the lower range of timbers. Reprocell 300 has around a third of the compressive strength of the 500.

Reprocell 500 has therefore shown that it has potential to be a structural material. The downside of denser specimens of course is that the material does not expand quite so freely so I am having to use more of the liquid components!

Making 500 specimens with my little syringe device outlined in the previous post has proved to be challenging. Despite experimenting with longer tubing and multiple static mixers, the material is being deposited in its creamy viscous state, and then the darker / hotter / thinner / runnier phase is occurring on the surface of the mat after deposition, leading to lateral spreading.

After the current round of tests are complete, several options will be investigated, most notably whether a catalyst may be applied to speed up the reaction time and the investigation of whether particles can be added to the material to favourably alter its rheological properties – these may include clay nanoparticles, graphene, carbon fibres, or ways to combine the lower density foam with the higher density foam.

Barrie Dams 19/01/2017