Engineering and design student insights

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

Posts By: Beth Jones

Bringing engineering to the Basil Spence project


📥  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.


11 Tips for Three Minute Thesis Contenders (and anyone giving a presentation really)

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📥  Department of Chemical Engineering, Postgraduate

Author: Jemma Rowlandson, winner of the 2016 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition is a fantastic idea, a great exercise in explaining your research quickly and to a non-specialist audience. It not only comes in handy when engaging the public, but also in your research career. Poster sessions, pitching for funding, and even vivas all require you to think on your feet and explain your research in a concise but informative manner. Squashing your entire PhD into three minutes however is no mean feat, and so here are some tips to get you started…

“An 80,000 word thesis would take 9 hours to present.

Their time limit... 3 minutes”


Before the day:

Have a killer story

This is probably THE most important thing you can possibly do. Everyone loves a good story, so ensure your presentation has one, include a beginning, middle and end. Ensure your last sentence focuses on the take home message. This not only makes it easy for the audience to follow, but a good story is also memorable.

Check out other people’s stories

One of the most useful things I find, is looking at what other people have done before me. For the 3MT competition especially, it’s unlikely you’ve ever done anything like this before. Looking at how other people tackled the problem can be very helpful. The 3MT website has lots of fantastic examples from previous winners and finalists, and the University of Bath too has videos of their previous entrants.

Make it relatable

A good analogy helps. Your research will likely span several complex research areas. The real key to this is explaining them in a relatable way. Now this does not mean ‘dumbing down’ your research, you do not want to trivialise what you do. Instead focus on the big picture and find inventive ways to describe your research. My analogy was using Leerdammer cheese to explain adsorption of water toxins. Tricky topic, killer analogy, everyone goes home knowing what adsorption is.

Humour can work well

Humour can go down well in a presentation, and it can help make your story more memorable. However, be prepared for all outcomes. If your joke goes well allow a few seconds before continuing to let the laughter sink in. Equally be prepared for the audience to find things funny that you didn’t expect. And if your joke unfortunately does fall flat, have a back-up plan. Either have a handy one liner to make it into a joke (i.e. ‘I won’t give up my day job then!’), or confidently brush past it onto the next part of your presentation.

Practice, practice, practice

Practice by yourself, in front of other people, and especially people who do not know what your research is about. Know someone else entering the competition? Grab them as a practice partner, you can give each other advice. Multiple people in your research group entering? Great, dedicate a group meeting to presentation feedback. For this, you can never practice enough.

On the day:

Find your happy place

Before your big moment, do something that relaxes you. Don’t go in stressed. Go for a run, eat lots of chocolate, just do something you enjoy. My thing? I listen to Taylor Swift, calms the nerves and puts me in a great mood.

You are the most important thing

The most important thing about the entire presentation is YOU. Sure, you have a slide but the audience came to listen to you, and they will mostly be watching you. Your body language and your enthusiasm are all part of the presentation. So…

Smile 🙂

If you don’t find your research interesting, then why should your audience? A smile goes a long way, the audience will immediately click with you, and it will help you yourself feel more confident. Show enthusiasm for your research topic, the audience will feed off it and enjoy the whole experience a lot more.

Don’t run over time, but don’t rush!!

The three-minute time limit is very strict. Do not go over, even by a second. However, that doesn’t mean you should talk at a million miles an hour to get every tiny possible detail of your research project in. The audience just won’t follow. Instead, have a good story and tell it in good time. Plan some buffer time into your presentation, so that if you do stumble you know there’s a few seconds of leeway.

Never give up

There can only be one winner, and if it wasn’t you this time, that doesn’t mean your presentation wasn’t awesome. Heck, just having the guts to stand up there and try it is something on its own. If it wasn’t your day then don’t worry, there will always be other opportunities. The only way to improve presentation skills is to do more presentations.

But most importantly:

Have fun!

Sure the 3MT can be both stressful and nerve-wracking, but it is also a lot of fun! It is a great way to meet other researchers across the Uni, see what they’re up to, and share your own research. Enjoy the experience as much as possible and take every opportunity it throws your way 🙂


Detecting plastic landmines in different environments

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📥  Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Postgraduate

Author: Carl Tholin-Chittenden, 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering and a member of the Engineering Tomography Lab (ETL).

I am working with Electrical Capacitance Tomography (ECT) which is a sensing technique mainly used in industry to non-invasively view inside objects such as pipelines or containers. I use this technology to image landmines underground and reconstruct 3D images to aid in their detection and removal.

Reconstructing a 3D image

Landmines are increasingly constructed of plastic with very few metal components. This makes detecting them with conventional techniques, such as metal detectors, very difficult. ECT is capable of detecting most types of materials not just metals. This is because it finds differences in electromagnetic properties of materials to their surroundings. A plastic or metallic object buried in soil or sand is going to produce very different signals to the ECT sensor than when there is only soil or sand under the sensor. This signal difference can then be reconstructed to produce a 3D image of the object.

The main difficulties with ECT are that it doesn’t reconstruct the objects with much precision (mainly just location and depth) and it can be drastically affected by different environments, such as wet ground which degrades the signal quality.

In order to improve the image reconstruction of ECT I spent my first year at Bath researching sensor head designs to see if by simply changing the shape and layout of the sensor head I could improve the image reconstruction. I found that by using many different shapes of electrode and by varying the electrode layout on the sensor I could drastically improve the image reconstructions.

Carl talks through his landmine detection research with Sir Bobby Charlton and Dr Manuchehr Soleimani

Carl talks through his landmine detection research with Sir Bobby Charlton

Meeting Sir Bobby Charlton

My research is funded by a charity called Find A Better Way (FABW) which fund landmine detection technology research. The charity was founded by Sir Bobby Charlton and in June 2016 he came to visit my lab to see the work that I had been doing. He was very interested in the sensor design and I showed image live reconstruction of objects buried in sand to mimic landmines. I have been an avid supporter of Manchester United since I was young, so this visit was doubly amazing for me, and to have your work validated by someone as impressive as Sir Bobby has left a lasting impression on me.

Attending the WCIPT8

In September 2016 I was asked to present my work at the 8th World Congress for Industrial Process Tomography (WCIPT8) in Foz Do Iguazu, Brazil. I met many interesting people within my field with whom I could discuss my work. This gave me many ideas to bring back and apply to my research. I presented my work on sensor design, which was well received and many people had questions about the work and the software that I had developed to go alongside it. One PhD student was even interested in collaboration as the software I had developed was very similar to what he was working on.

Coming back from the conference I dived straight back into my research using everything that I had learnt. I am currently developing novel scanning techniques to improve the image reconstruction by viewing the object underground from different angles. Next I will start to design and build a sensor head which has configurable electrode shapes and layouts (the conclusion of my first year work).

To solve the problem of different environments I also aim to investigate using conductivity data in my simulations. This will mean that I can account for the wetness of the environment I am in, because wet ground has a higher conductivity that affects the electromagnetic properties of the ground around the object.

Saving and improving lives

Hopefully by combining all of these various additions to the ECT system I can show different ways in which an ECT system can be modified to be used for landmine detection. The dream would be that one day ECT is a viable method of landmine detection and that the technology I develop will be used to save lives and improve the lives of people living in areas affected by landmines.

The University of Bath will be hosting the next world congress WCIPT9 in 2018.


Taking to the skies with Human Powered Aircraft

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📥  Department of Mechanical Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Lewis Rawlinson, leader of our Bath University Man Powered AirCraft (BUMPAC) team.

In February 2015 seven Aerospace Engineering students were tasked to design a Human Powered Aircraft from scratch. The BUMPAC team designed an innovative aircraft with rigid lift struts and modern composite structure. A year later four of the original members based their final-year engineering projects around HPAs. We came together to revive BUMPAC and continue the work started by HPA teams before us.

Inheriting a skeleton set of wings, a fuselage and a few other components, we set about redesigning and building our aircraft, which would later be christened Angel. I designed and built the drivetrain, as well as taking responsibility for all organisational, admin and logistical tasks for the team. This included dividing jobs, setting deadlines and advising the rest of the team on technical and interface aspects.

Angel’s first flight

In July we took Angel to the airfield for the BHPFC Sywell competition. After fixing damage sustained in transit and waiting for a weather window we attempted our first flight. Unfortunately there were issues with the drivetrain that prevented the propeller from getting to full speed. We anticipated this might be an issue and had already manufactured tensioning devices, but had left these off the aircraft in an attempt to save weight. We fitted our tensioning devices and made a number of adjustments to the aircraft, particularly increasing dihedral and modifying the control system interface.

On the morning of July 20th weather conditions looked perfect. With a slight headwind the team rolled the aircraft out onto the concrete apron, pointed into the wind and started pedalling and pushing hard. Angel leapt six feet into the air taking the whole team by surprise. Unfortunately she then lost a lot of airspeed causing her to stall and come crashing back down a few seconds later. Nevertheless, with this taste of success we set about fixing the damage again and making more adjustments. This time looking for more stability and easier control!

24 hours later Angel flies again

Just 24 hours later the team were back out and ready for more, but with no wind this would be a much harder effort. Lining up again on the concrete apron, pointing out towards plenty of space the props started spinning and the aircraft accelerated, very quickly running out of tarmac and bumping along the grass to a gentle stop. The team rolled her back as far as possible, lined up and went again. This time Angel accelerated more quickly, tapped onto the grass and with a pull of the stick lifted gently into the air. Alarmingly in taking off, she had rolled slightly and started turning right towards the hangars. The pilot (me) pulled off the power, touched down and rolled to a stop. Crisis averted with no damage! We put Angel away for the first time without damage. A very welcome respite.

34 seconds of flight

Throughout the next day we tinkered and rested, eagerly awaiting the evening’s flying. This time the team made their way all the way up to the end of the main runway. When the all clear was given, the props slowly started spinning up, the ground handlers started running, the front wheel lifted off the ground and a few seconds later the rear followed suit. Flying just above the ground Angel swept down the runway gracefully, eventually touching down 34 seconds later. She pulled off the runway and came to a gentle stop, caught by the ground handlers who had been following behind on bicycles. I collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed by the effort and joy of what had been achieved. Angel once again went away unharmed.

Angel's final flight

Dawn broke on the last Saturday of the competition. The controls and cg had been slightly adjusted in the hope of reducing the power requirement and making it easier to take-off. The latter was achieved arguably too successfully. With a slight headwind, Angel set off down the runway under full pilot power, climbed and rolled aggressively, and came back down with an almighty crack. The left wing tip caught the ground and tore the wing from the fuselage, shattering a handful of ribs, destroying the centre section of the wing and tearing the fuselage apart at the base of the chain tube. With that, the competition was all but over for us.

I’m proud of the incredible success that was achieved by just four passionate guys with buckets of enthusiasm. The remains of Angel were packed away and sent back to the University of Bath, in the hope that the next generation will carry her on and make her great once again.

Find out how UK universities are embracing Human Powered aircraft to promote engineering skills.

The problem of comfort in prosthetics

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📥  Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Oscar Rovira (2nd year Integrated Mechanical & Electrical Engineering student).

There are thousands of amputations per year in war-torn countries due to mines. The current process of multiple castings and weeks of testing for every individual prosthetic limb has remained relatively unchanged for fifty years. This is a time consuming and costly process for a standard prosthetic (prices can range from £4000 to £40,000).

3D printing technology is developing prosthetic technology at a reduced price, but there remains comfort and reliability issues. As part of my first-year project I decided to focus on developing affordable, comfortable prosthetics. In the end, no matter how robust a prosthesis is, if it’s not comfortable to wear, then it won't be used.

Developing a prototype

Once I knew my objective, I started drawing and sketching all the ideas that came to my mind: from developing a fully 3D printed design of a robotic leg that could automatically adapt to the limb, to creating a prosthesis which could be “built” by the customer (imagine Lego pieces constructing and improving their design). After two weeks of crazy designs and research I decided that the quickest way to solve the problem of comfort was to create a tool that could analyse the stiffness of the stump at any point. This would reduce the forces that the socket applies to the hard tissue, thus reducing any soreness due to bad force distribution.

Inspired by the FitSocket from MIT, and with the objective of reducing the cost whilst maintaining reliability, I started writing all the specifications that “Rijido” (the name I gave my project) needed. Once I had all the measurements and data I spent three days doing all the CAD designs that I would later 3D print. Once all the parts were printed, I started troubleshooting with the prototype and assembly until I got a much better result. Then I used a solder to attach all the wires to the prototype and I connected an Arduino with a bit of code in order to retrieve all the data. After one month Rijido’s first prototype was born!

Seeking funding and promoting my project

I would say that there’s nothing more fulfilling than to see hard work, passion and dedication finally paying off, but that's not where the story ends. I posted my project on Instructables and I applied to a seed accelerator named Imagine to receive feedback and promote Rijido. Although I didn't receive funding from the seed accelerator in the end, I still managed to finish third out of two hundred applicants.

A prosthetist from South Carolina noticed my project on Instructables and expressed an interest in using Rijido as a tool in his practice. It was so exciting to see that my project was actually something people were already looking for. This prosthetist got in touch with the MIT Department of Biomechanics, which then contacted Arthur Petron, a postgraduate who holds the patent alongside Hugh Herr (a heavily influential person in the area of biomechanics) of FitSocket. It was amazing to talk on LinkedIn with the person (Arthur) who first inspired me. Rijido was also then selected as a finalist for the TEDxBarcelona Awards 2016.

Passion and perseverance

Fun, stress, excitement, uncertainty…I would say that the whole journey of making Rijido was a combination of these emotions. The fact that I could use 3D printers, get spare parts and work both in the mechanical and electrical workshops at any time, was the most fun part. I felt like a kid in a ball pit.

Thanks to Rijido I have learnt a host of things! In terms of technical skills, I have mastered how to use 3D printers, I have developed my skills at using turning machines, drawing, CAD modelling and project management. The project also introduced me to different business strategies. In terms of personal skills, I have gained more confidence in myself and improved my communication skills. I’ve learnt again that the combination of passion and perseverance can make any idea into reality and verified how errors and mistakes during the design process are key to producing a much better final product.

Definitely only one of the many more projects yet to come…

Find out more about Rijido.

Algorithms to improve medical imaging

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📥  Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Postgraduate

Author: Ander Biguri, PhD student from our Engineering Tomography Lab.

Having clear, non-blurred images is key for medical imaging, especially during radiation therapy. Knowing the exact location of a tumour helps to target treatment and protect healthy tissue. Motion artefacts are a challenging issue for medical imaging and any sort of motion will lead to blurry images (similar to when moving a standard camera whilst taking a photo).

To improve this we have developed TIGRE, our fast, free and accurate 3D X-ray image reconstruction toolbox (created by the University of Bath Engineering Tomography Lab and CERN). We hope this will be used by the community, and most importantly, hospitals. The toolbox is based on Cone Beam Computer Tomography (CBCT). This is a type of scanning process that takes a series of 2D X-ray pictures and processes them into a 3D image.

Medical imaging

Traditional medical imaging

Increasing the speed of motion correction algorithms in TIGRE

The algorithms we accelerated in graphics processing units (GPUs) are now fast enough to be used in clinical scenarios. I adapted these algorithms to be faster by modifying them to run on a laptop fitted with a GPU. These algorithms can lead to improved image quality and some of them can work with very low amounts of data, thus potentially reducing radiation doses to patients. This could in turn help to increase patient survivability rates.

We are also currently working on motion correction, by using techniques developed 20 years ago at the Proton Synchrotron at CERN by Steven Hancock. I was involved in translating this concept from Phase Space to X-ray tomography. Phase Space tomography (tomography performed in an accelerator) uses known motion models to update tomographical information during algorithmic image reconstruction, essentially removing all known motion happening from the image. This technique has now been translated to X-ray tomography.

Imaging from TIGRE

Imaging from TIGRE - fast and more accurate 3D X-ray image

European Network for LIGht ion Hadron Therapy poster prize

Programming on GPUs is very tedious, but I am proud of achieving a code that can run in milliseconds rather than minutes (or what once took hours or days). I really enjoyed translating the methods used at a particle accelerator to a medical scenario, and it's always a pleasure to be able to play with techniques developed at CERN! Presenting this work to other researchers at the European Network was a really enjoyable experience and winning a prize for my poster was very rewarding. Having my hard work recognised in an expert environment gives me the energy to continue on with my research.