Engineering and design student insights

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

Topic: Undergraduate

Introducing our lunar rover: Aqua Lunae

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

Author: William Easdown


Since October my team of eight students from Bath SpaceSoc, Aqua Lunae, has been working on a small lunar rover engineering model for the national UKSEDS Lunar Rover Competition. The competition challenges teams from UK universities to design and build a small rover to collect a dry ice sample from within a crater in a simulated lunar environment. It aims to teach participants about spacecraft engineering and give them useful project management experience. So how did we go about designing such a challenging vehicle and what did we learn along the way?

The concept

The first milestone in the project was the Preliminary Design Review (PDR), which we submitted on New Year’s Eve. In this, we outlined our concept and made estimations of management elements such as budget and schedule. We came up with our concept design by supplementing the standard practices taught by the Department of Mechanical Engineering with our own knowledge of the peculiarities of the lunar environment. I produced an initial CAD model in Autodesk Fusion 360 and it was this that we used as visual inspiration going forward.

Detailed design

After the PDR came the Critical Design Review (CDR), for which the team did a great deal of analysis of each of the rover subsystems (propulsion, control and sampling). They described what had changed with their design since the PDR and outlined how the rover would be assembled and tested. My work on the CAD also meant we had a clear picture going forward of what the finished rover would look like and how the different parts would fit together. Once we submitted the CDR at the end of March, we received some feedback from an industry expert, which we then used to clarify our intentions during a Skype presentation to him.

Build phase

Once our industry expert had cleared us past the presentation, we could start work on assembling the rover. This progressed slowly at first because of exam season, but after that the team dived into cutting holes in our chassis, mounting motors and printing the wheels and sampler components.

Two of our electrical engineers, Laurabelle and Izzy, also very quickly put our video transmission system together, which will feed live video from a camera on the front of the rover back to the control point so we can see where we’re going.

Jacob and I spent several days in the mechanical engineering workshop filing, drilling and printing to put together the rest of the mechanical components, after Declan and Peter had prepared the chassis and installed the motors and their controllers. Only the electrical system is left to sort out now before we’re ready for the big test day in July.

Rover prototype

Aqua Lunae, our rover

The final test

The actual competition will take place at RAL Space on the Harwell Science Campus near Didcot, with Aqua Lunae competing against five other teams from universities around the country. The rovers will have two attempts at travelling to the centre of a crater in RAL Space’s moon yard, picking up a 500g sample of dry ice, then returning to the start point. Between the two runs they’ll also be subjected to a vibration test that will accurately simulate the shaking of a launch on a Falcon 9 rocket, so the rovers will have to be rigorously built to withstand this.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed working with my team over the past few months on what has been a very rewarding but also challenging project. We’re looking forward to running our rover at RAL Space to really put Bath on the UK student space map and can’t wait to compete again next year.

 

Questions and answers on the Basil Spence project

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

Author: Emma Moberg


In his introduction to this project, Martin reminded us that “vision without action is a day dream”, and similarly, “action without vision is a nightmare”. Even though I thought it fairly apparent at the time, I would in hindsight say that we have experienced quite a bit of both. The real lows such as the heartbreak of a cracked concrete model or a fatal computer crash, were all eventually overcome. I think the essential trait to our team has been our persistence; continuing to question and experiment to push the scheme further. I believe that the project has not only taught us to ask the right questions, but also how to provide useful answers.

Our Method:
Physical Models
The One Sentence

A dialogue through models

Our scheme developed over eight weeks of questions and answers, and more questions, a process in which the models were key. Imagining and developing a building in a team of four can be challenging if the conversation takes place only in words. I found that arguments more often arose due to miscommunication than actual differences and disagreements. In order to lead a constructive design conversation and share ideas between us we have used a wealth of cardboard and foam models. Also a useful tool in all of the tutorials, acting as tangible objects of dialogue. The model making has been effective in terms of communication, but also to test and interrogate ideas. We detected flaws and made improvements through continuous material experimentation.

Towards the last stages, our cardboard models grew in scale and were eventually tested in plaster and concrete. We spent many days, even weeks, sawing formwork in the workshop, testing plaster pigment levels, cutting foam and pouring concrete in the lab. We learnt fantastic things from the skilful department staff; Walter, Miles and Eve, patiently guiding us through the hands-on making. Obvious as it may sound; by building our building again and again, we developed a clear and coherent material and structural strategy, tried and tested by the critical method. To me, the confidence that this rationale of physical evidence and tangible iterations provides, has been valuable.

One sentence to focus our design

Often during the project we would be asked to repeat the single sentence that defined our scheme. Our sentence was “A monument to Oxford’s literary heritage” and was decided in the second week. While a simple exercise, that sentence on the wall was helpful in decision making and reminded us of the initial motivation and foundation for our project. Our one core idea evolved and developed rather than drastically altered. Although we had many days of doubt and indecisiveness, we were always able to gather in consensus around that core sentence, and thereby drive the process forward.

The group dynamic

I am incredibly grateful to have been through this exact project with these exact people. The dynamic within the group has been exciting and invigorating; I do really believe that we have played on each other’s strengths towards an end product that is more confident, clear and thoughtful than any of us could have thought of on our own. And in turn, inherent to our building is Matt’s wonderful clarity of thought, Helen’s conviction and drive for the scheme, Zach’s patience and brilliance and my own continuous efforts to question, improve and imagine our scheme. After the blood, sweat, tears and sleep invested in this project I am glad to see our Basil Spence finally come together. And, I am proud of the work we presented, which I believe is a perfect culmination of all of our efforts and the methods we have learnt over the past three years in Bath.

 

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.

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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.

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Unity, confidence and persistence on the Basil Spence project

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

Author: Helen Needs


Unity of thought
Working together is the foundation on which the Basil Spence project is built. The integration of disciplines to create something inspiring is both an exciting and daunting prospect. Emma and Matt have been close friends since the beginning of university, and are now almost like brother and sister. My place in the team dynamic has occasionally been to balance this, trying to resolve slight tension by helping them realise they are often saying the same thing! We were incredibly lucky to have worked with Zach, our engineer, who shared our desire to create something more. He appreciated our architectural ambitions, and worked with us to enrich them with structural and environmental strategies which elevated the design to another level.

I think that throughout the project we have all endeavoured to not take the “easy way out” in any aspect. If ideas felt that their only justification was being the obvious, or easiest solution, we wouldn’t accept them. I think this unity of thought helped us create something with a truly strong concept, which stood the test of time - each of our moments of unwillingness to compromise has paid off. A new experience for me has been the sheer volume of models we have created during this project. As a bold initial move was the key to our design, considering its scale - modelling it from the outset was unavoidable. We tested any and every eventuality and suggestion given to us in tutorials, resulting in a rapid iterative process which allowed us to become comfortable with our scale and form. The process of making these models also meant that there have been very few instances where the team has not been “on the same page” with what we are trying to express.

Confidence to answer our critics

Throughout the project, my confidence has experienced true peaks and troughs, as has the confidence of the group as a whole. In week two our proposal began to be referred to by tutors and colleagues as something “bold”. A building of this scale, standing out amongst its context is not something I believe would have been any of our initial ideas had we been working alone. The reaction to this risk-taking approach was more often than not, positive and something we were commended for.

Whilst we were comfortable with the shape and form of the main building from the beginning there were a number of delays due to lack of confidence. This speck of doubt initially diluted our ideas and central concept. Throughout tutorials and discussions leading up to the interim review there was an “elephant in the room”, which surprisingly was not the large, bold main building. Each of us avoided designing these smaller modules - which were initially key to our concept. Just before the interim review these modules were removed from the proposal entirely. This move tested my confidence in the idea as a whole - however, it felt as though a weight had been lifted and allowed us to focus our efforts entirely on designing the central building. Our initial moves gained a positive reaction at the interim review, one major change to “tidy up” the diagram of our building was something we all agreed on. From here, there were more layers to add to achieve the level of detail we felt it required to reach its full potential - but it felt attainable.

As we planned our final critique, I was hit with a realisation of how deeply immersed we had become in the project. Going into the review I felt we would be able to guide the critics into elements of the design we felt best sold the proposal. Pushing and questioning each other and ourselves constantly meant when others asked questions - we had conviction in our answers.

Perseverance until the end

This was the longest project we have tackled so far in our university careers. It was an exciting prospect having the time to develop an idea so fully, but we've also needed perseverance. Once the idea of the “concrete box” was expressed, we universally agreed that some, or all of our models would ideally be concrete casts. The idea was beautiful, the reality was hours spent in the workshop, many failed attempts and ultimately - heartbreak. Creating formwork which we thought would be sturdy enough took days - only to have this be our downfall - the model could only be removed from its formwork by brute force. The concrete cracked, leaving us with only one or two intact fragments, the model was unsalvageable. Yet, we decided to pursue the goal of creating a casted model, just in a different medium. The end result perhaps was not as neat or accurate as we had envisioned, however the ceremony of opening it up during the review and revealing the spaces inside still achieved the desired effect and our time spent making it was worthwhile.

After experiencing the euphoria of winning the Basil Spence, knuckling down and ensuring all our thoughts and ideas were captured on our final report was a difficult process to begin. We had the well-known situation of “it’s all in our heads, we just need to draw it”. This week, having each focused on producing a section of the report, I have witnessed it come together into a piece of work I am immensely proud of and that I believe shows our scheme at its best - a place I would love to visit.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Vision, Management, Delivery on the Basil Spence

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

Author: Matt McCluskey


When Martin first e-mailed the year to encourage us to start assembling groups for Basil Spence, he suggested that a suitable team may consist of a visionary, a manager, and a deliverer. While I agree with him on principle, I would like to think that our team distributed these traits fairly evenly across the four of us, and that this enabled us to work cohesively and productively for the entire duration of the project.

Visualising our Basil Spence design

In terms of visualising the scheme, I always felt that the others within the group were seeing the scheme from the same perspective that I was. Although we sometimes had different opinions about how to develop the scheme, this was mainly resolved by making physical models. Not only did this highlight flaws in an idea through physical manifestation, but model making in itself provided much needed respite from endless debate, discussion and potential conflict. I was sometimes reluctant to spend time developing multiple solutions, but have realised that this was the only way that our scheme ever moved forward, and that without constantly modelling different ideas, we would have ended up with a very bland solution.

Delivering to our final goal

Individually, we were all self-motivated and set our own objectives, all the while bearing in mind the various milestones to work towards. Collectively, however, we sometimes struggled to commit to group goals and to decide who should complete which task, due to the unpredictability of the time taken to produce material. Once the scheme had been finalised, we realised that we faced a daunting task to produce all the necessary material for the final review. Emma and Helen had spent days in the workshop producing formwork for a concrete model which broke as soon as we prised the formwork off. This setback was extremely demoralising and frustrating in equal measure. We felt as if 5 days had been completely wasted, leaving us with less time than desired to produce the drawings for the final review. Helen took on the thankless task of building a 3D model to use for drawings and we managed to produce a cast model for the review.

Working as a team

In Zach, we not only had an incredibly gifted civil engineer, but a talented and immensely passionate designer who contributed greatly to every single aspect of the design process, while also producing an amazingly thorough engineering solution to our scheme. His positive outlook on the project and eagerness to push the boundaries of his knowledge have produced, in my opinion, a unique and innovative solution to a complex brief. I have never met an individual who works as hard or as unselfishly as Zach. Whether it was cutting tiny wooden buildings in the workshop, calculating the structural requirements of our building, or staying in studio hours after us to do his other coursework, his enthusiasm never wavered.

Thanks to Emma the main body of our scheme has stayed pure and undiluted in terms of its concept. Her amazing drawings brought to life the fantastical nature that we tried to instil in our scheme. Helen's calm demeanour and ability to think clearly and with reason has prevented several discussions from turning into arguments, as has her ability to weigh up the pros and cons of multiple solutions in order to produce the best result for the scheme. This is something that I occasionally found difficult, as I can develop tunnel-vision and struggle to imagine how another solution could work.

Without my team mates, I would not have had such a firm belief in our scheme. I can say whole-heartedly that I have enjoyed every single moment in their presence - our shared enjoyment of this process has made Basil Spence worthwhile; we have produced a scheme which I am proud to put our names on.

 

A very Bavarian Christmas!

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Undergraduate

Very early on in deciding to undertake the Erasmus semester I knew I wanted to maximise my cultural experience and spend as much time as physically possible in Germany. Therefore I stayed in Munich over the Christmas holidays in order to experience a proper German Christmas and to use the time off of lectures to travel more widely. So as lectures ended I waved goodbye to my friends and colleagues, however  it wasn't all lonely however as my partner, Kathryn, came to stay!!

The Christmas buzz in Munich really gets underway at the end of November when the Christkindlsmarkts (Christmas markets) come out in force. Having experienced the Bath Christmas market I thought I was prepared, however the number and scale of the markets in Germany made Bath look tiny in comparison! Every district of Munich seemed to have its own local market (my "local", in Schwabing, was especially pretty and focused on the arts and crafts of the area)  as well as the huge ones in town catering to every taste possible. Instead of the major shopping experience we seem to have in the UK the markets here are more of a destination to meet and socialise with friends, drinking Glühwein and eating Heiße Maroni around the outside tables. My favourite market was the "medieval market" at Wittelsbacherplatz - themed in a medieval style with the huts and vendors dressed appropriately, it was a lot of fun to be shopping for axes and bows eating a Flammbrot (like a german answer to the pizza) avoiding the sword-fighting going on behind - Brilliant! And in the evenings when the lights were out it was truly magical to wander the streets of the old city stumbling across market after market in under the twinkling lights...

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Christmas Markets of Munich! 

Christmas eve is the main event for most of Bavaria with Midnight mass being the "unmissable" event to attend so e we wrapped up warm and headed down to the local church at 11:00 pm. Singing Stille Nacht in a huge catholic church lit by candle light was a great way of entering Christmas. For breakfast we had the typical Bavarian breakfast of pretzel, white sausage and sweet mustard (washed down with large mugs of tea!) and then moved on to attempting to cook a Christmas dinner without an oven on just two electric rings - fairly successfully I have to add! After lunch a brisk walk in the English garden and then back to open presents. Skyping home to our family and playing some cards ended off one of the most memorable Christmases I am sure I will ever have.

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Christmas

In the following week we became tourists, visiting Salzburg and Vienna on the train for a few days to explore the beautiful cities and learn about their illustrious histories too. Back in munich we travelled to the Dachau concentration camp memorial which was a haunting place with an eye opening museum, the fairytale Neuschwanstein castle and the grand Nymphenburg Schloss which also had a large "ice festival" on its frozen lakes and ponds. Also an experience was the Müller'sches Volksbad, an old classical style swimming hall with beautiful architecture and an attached suite of steam rooms and sauna in the traditional German style - you leave your modesty along with your swimming trunks on the hook by the door!!

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Neuschwansten Castle

New years eve in Munich was also a lot of fun - Shops are able to sell fireworks from three days before and it seemed that everyone made good use of this time judging by the empty shelves and people staggering back to their homes under the weight of explosives. On the evening itself it was like staying in a warzone with constant bangs from around five o clock until early into the new year however from what we could see the colours in the sky were amazing. The next day a huge smog had enveloped the city and we heard on the news that the air pollution was 26 (!!!!) times over the EU legal limit because of all the smoke! And the debris on the usually pristine streets was unbelievable too! Fortunately it snowed the next day and covered everything up!

Back into the last few weeks in Munich now we are currently (trying) to organise our exams and complete our courses before heading back to Bath for semester 2. Although I am excited about seeing my friends in the UK again and moving back to the beautiful city of Bath, I will be very sad to leave Munich and I think a piece of my heart will be forever here... but more on that later.

Ciao!

Matthew