Engineering and design student insights

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

Tagged: PGR

Drilling into polyurethane foam


📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Please categorise your post, Postgraduate

Continuing my investigation into the properties of both low and high density polyurethane foams and their suitability for 3D printing, the drilling resistance of test specimens was measured. Interfaces are a crucial element in 3D printing and the aim of the drilling was to discover if there was a change in the density of cured foam at interfaces and moulded boundaries.

Two types of rectangular block specimens were used:

Cut-edged specimens with an interface: The liquid components were poured into a tray in two stages. Enough liquid was poured in to expand and occupy half of the tray volume and once fully cured, a second quantity of foam liquid was poured on top of the cured layer.
Moulded one-layered specimens: the two liquid components were mixed and poured into moulds to expand and cure. Enough liquid was poured in to fully occupy the volume, therefore no internal interfaces were present in these specimens.
Drilling resistance was measured using a Sint Technology Cordless Drilling Resistance Measurement System. The position of the drill bit was linked to a software program to continuously record the force required to advance the penetration of the moving bit through the foam. Specimens were placed into position and clamped as pictured.


The results showed that the material was higher in density at interfaces and moulded boundaries, with the difference being most pronounced in the low density, high expanding foam – up to approximately ten times as dense. Drilling into polyurethane foam was an interesting and entirely new experience, with the drill gliding effortlessly though low density foam and the high density foam putting up a little bit more of a struggle!


Cold homes - the "silent" killer.


📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate



So almost all of us are back in Bath after a couple of weeks of over-eating, prolonged exposure to relatives and dreaming up wholly unachievable New Year’s resolutions. As the weather gets colder and we are no longer ensconced in wonderfully warm living rooms with copious amounts of mulled wine, you might be questioning how on earth you’re going to cope with the arctic conditions of your house share… Well, you’re not alone.

Cold homes are estimated to cost the NHS approximately £1.3 billion per year, mostly as a result of people suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular problems. With soaring energy prices, inefficient buildings and incomes rising slower than inflation, it is no wonder that an increasing number of people struggle to attain suitable indoor temperatures. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum indoor temperature of 18˚C, which should be increased to 21˚C for children, disabled people and the elderly.

Unsurprisingly, cold homes have a more adverse effect on older people, whose bodies are less capable of trapping and retaining heat in comparison to a younger person. In the winter of 2014/15 there were 43,900 excess winter deaths (EWDs), 83% of which were people aged 75 and over. It is estimated that around 30% of EWDs are caused by cold homes, which results in over 8000 people dying unnecessarily each year. Shockingly, this is more than the number of people killed in road accidents, or through alcohol abuse.

So with this in mind, what is being done to prevent EWD’s? Well, Government initiatives such as the Energy Company Obligation (which requires energy companies to improve the energy efficiency of their most vulnerable customer’s homes), the Green Deal (which loaned money to homeowners for renewable energy sources) and more local Council led schemes, such as Warm Homes in BANES, all go some way to alleviating the problem, but the reality is that the direct and indirect effect of cold homes on health is not fully understood and further research is necessary to ensure this problem is prevented.

In the meantime, as we now know more about the impact of cold homes on health, I think it’s completely justifiable for us to hit the sales and buy some more clothes, purely in the interest of staying warm and healthy… right?!


Science, goblins and the new fiver: why 2017 will be a good year

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

It’s scarcely worth repeating that 2016 was full of surprises – of which many people were happy, many not happy. As for many other walks of life, science faces uncertain times.

Despite the UK Government’s promise to safeguard existing EU Horizon 2020 funding until the UK leaves the EU, there are concerns of leaner times ahead. Cold hard cash aside, the general zeitgeist is perhaps also concerning for a scientist. The Oxford English Dictionary’s recognition of “post-truth” as a word, plus a famous person being quoted as “having had enough of experts”, has created something of an edgy mood.

Throughout all this uncertainty, I am personally buoyant about science’s prospects in 2017. In the spirit of the year just passed, this is for an unashamedly emotional, subjective reason, all thanks to an unlikely union of people.

First of the odd couple, the man behind Gnarlak the goblin in the film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – otherwise known as Ron Perlman. Secondly, the new face of the £5 note – one Sir Winston Churchill. In an interview with The Big Issue, Perlman spoke passionately about the value of arts, saying:

“I’m with Churchill – we need to cherish culture. It celebrates our commonalities”

Ron Perlman, Interview with The Big Issue, no.1231, 14 November 2016

Gnarlak, a goblin played by culture champion Ron Perlman. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Gnarlak, a goblin played by arts champion Ron Perlman. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Churchill was indeed a champion of culture – particularly its value to society (though he is often misquoted in this regard).

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

Sir Winston Churchill, Address to Royal Academy, 30 April 1938

This staunch support of culture may have partly come from Churchill’s own career in painting. It was a source of great enjoyment and relief for him. As he himself said "If it weren't for painting I could not live. I couldn't bear the strain of things."

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

But what is this to do with science?” I hear you ask. Like its fellow branches of the liberal arts, science, has its ups and downs. But like so many other aspects of human culture, it’s hardwired into our existence. It’s here to stay.

At this point in time, we are perhaps more aware than before of the differences between oneself and other citizens. This is a reason, more than ever, to seek what unites - our “commonalities”.

And science DOES unite. To give an example - standing out amongst December’s news articles about the Middle East was the arrival of SESAME. Not a puppet or seed, but the Middle East’s new particle accelerator, the “Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications”. Scientists from Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Bahrain will collaborate and do research in this new £75m facility in Jordan.

Open SESAME! The Middle East's new particle accelerator in al-Balqa, Jordan. Image courtesy of

Open SESAME! The Middle East's new particle accelerator in al-Balqa, Jordan. Image courtesy of

The prospect of lots of clever people from a troubled region working together to push the envelope of human scientific knowledge is something to celebrate. Likewise, in music, sport, literature etc., there is so much which humans enjoy and excel at which unites us across differences. At a time when there seem to be ever more ways to contrive conflict with others (voting preferences, cosmetic appearance, nationality, the list grows ever longer), let us always think first of the reality at hand - that quietly, so many of the things which inspire us are common to us all.

So as we look ahead to what 2017 may bring, rather than dwell on what frights us, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of all that unites us.

A Happy New Year to you all.

Also posted at


Straight into the Labs!


📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

I am currently in the second month of my PhD project, which will consist of examining materials suitable for 3D printing lightweight structures. The project will be using swarming, coordinated drones to deposit the material rather than current ground based heavy machinery.

I have dived straight into laboratory work with a small device which represents the amount of material that a single drone can carry. I have enjoyed commencing lab work early and this will help inform my reading by refining the search for suitable literature. Material investigation will focus upon cement pastes and polymers, with the starting point for my work being whether polyurethane foam may play a role in a structural material.

The device consists of two syringes and a 6V DC motor connected to rods moving the plungers up and down the syringes. Polyurethane foam has two liquid components – a resin and a hardener. The figures below show the liquids being drawn into the syringes and then deposited through an arrangement of silicon tubes with an epoxy mixer nozzle into a mould.

blog1       blog-2

Long established as insulating materials, initial syringe device operation has been carried out using standard density polyurethane foam. I have been using different machines for the first time to characterise the material, with mechanical testing in the structures laboratory, travelling to Chemical Engineering to use the Rheometer and to the Microscopy analysis suite to use the Scanning Electron Microscope and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. This will lead on to the investigation of higher density polyurethane foam, which has a density comparable to timber. I look forward in the coming weeks to using the techniques that I have learnt in the first month of my PhD to investigate the higher density foam and determine the structural feasibility of the material.


How to Design the 'Best' Paper Airplane


📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

The H.M.S. Research in very low Earth orbit.

The 'H.M.S. Research' in Very Low Earth Orbit.

One of the reasons I was interested in doing a PhD in the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the University of Bath was the emphasis that the department and the university place on public engagement. Sharing research with the world and inspiring young people to pursue awesome projects in engineering and design is something I wanted to do more of!

One of the coolest such opportunities here at Bath is the University's link with the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution's (BRLSI) Young Researcher's Programme (YRP). At YRP, a group of current PhD students from the University of Bath act as mentors for a cohort of 14-16 year old young researchers who spend one full year developing an completely independent research project on a question of their choosing - a "mini-PhD."

Our role as mentors is to try to convey the research process and research skills, and to inspire and guide the intellectual development of the young researchers - we are not teachers!

The photo above shows what that mentorship actually looks like!

Last Saturday, the exercise we went through with the young researcher's was the design of the "best" paper airplane. Starting out as a very open ended design brief: "Design the 'best' paper airplane.", the exercise eventually guided the young researchers through the process of defining a precise research question - "What does 'best' mean anyway?"

As we quickly learned with the young researchers, however, even with a precise research question formulated, such as "How does wingspan and wing shape affect flight distance?," we needed to develop ways of measuring both our inputs and our results. We also needed to be clear about our independent and dependent variables, and the controls in our experiment. In about 30 minutes, (all the while witnessing the design of some pretty impressive paper airplanes!) we encountered and tackled many of the major challenges every scientist and researcher faces in planning and executing real-life research!

Although we certainly hope that the young researchers left the session on Saturday inspired, and with a better sense of how the research process works, we PhD students were actually amazed at how much we had learned as well! It's easy to forget the basic rules of the scientific method when faced with something as huge and abstract as a 3 or 4 year PhD thesis - I think each of us walked away from the day with a few more tools in our research kit, and a clarified sense of how to approach our own work.

If you do end up pursuing a PhD at the University of Bath, I highly recommend getting involved with the Young Researcher's Programme or one of the similar projects, such as Code Club, happening in the Bath area. You can also become a STEM ambassador, where you have the opportunity to inspire young people about STEM, share your work to excited and bright-eyed audiences, and just have a good time doing the fun parts of STEM!

Please note: the above image is copyright of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. Please do not reuse without permission.


My first academic conference (including dinner... in an aquarium!)

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Eating plaice in the presence of plaice

After starting my PhD recently (a month ago today to be exact),  I was lucky enough to be invited, by my second supervisor, to the Nordic Seminar on Computational Mechanics at Chalmers University, Gothenburg, Sweden. And, of course, I accepted!

With some last minute planning and already feeling like a real jetsetter, I booked my one night trip and the following week it was happening. I arrived on the second day of the conference, and jumped straight into some parallel sessions on Structural Mechanics and Optimisation. In comparison to reading papers during the first few weeks of my PhD, these 20 minute presentations were a great quick insight into this broad and complex research area, and it was a great way to meet and network with PhD students from other universities.

However, the real fun (and some bemusement) came when we were told that our conference dinner would take place at the “Universeum”. If you are asking yourself, "What is the Universeum?", you are not alone! The Universeum is a science centre (similar to @Bristol for those from my native South West) with a four-storey rainforest exhibit with sloths and other animals; a space exhibit (where I got to play a cool version of space invaders with my supervisor) and an aquarium. As we were visiting out of normal opening hours (it felt a bit like Night at the Museum), before dinner we had full access to the centre and its activities.

We were escorted into the reptile and aquarium exhibit where dinner was to be served. As you can see by the picture - it was very cool! Although, I must admit eating Plaice in front of an audience of Plaice was a new experience for me! The evening continued with lovely food, wine and a hilarious Eurovision song contest with the conference attendees. Although, I must admit me and my supervisor kept quiet when they were asking for further entries - what would we have sung anyway?!


Fancy playing with building physics in a ROOM?


📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

If at any point in your life, you wondered why the room is dark, why the air is not fresh, or why the speech in an auditorium sounds muffled, the answers lie within building physics.

In the mood to learn a bit about building physics? Here is a ROOM for you to play with.

Check this video of some interactive visual displays inside:


Ideas behind ROOM

Playing with ROOM generally follows the pattern below.


It encourages you to visualise the hidden parameters of building design that controls the flow of light, air, heat and sound, to use it as a source of inspiration in the process of developing a design.


ROOM currently covers seven topics: sunlight access, daylight access, natural ventilation, fabric heat transfer, approximation of heating demand, thermal comfort, and sound reverberation, all embeded in the context of a room.

Upcoming event

I will be discussing about ROOM and evironmental design in architectural education in the architecture research forum at University of Westminster Marylebone campus on 03 November.



Survey of attitudes to environmental design

It is a survey we are running with architecture practices and schools to understand how architects perceive environmental design and building physics. I invite you to participate and tell us your views with which ROOM will keep growing.


I am also more than happy to give a demo of ROOM and discuss in detail should you be interested in further engaging with the platform and my research.



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.


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.