From new techniques to improve sanitation in developing countries to improved materials for use in nuclear fusion, the Royal Academy of Engineering is supporting eight new joint industry-academia research partnerships that will address some of the most complex challenges facing modern engineers.
Focusing on industry-relevant research across the full range of engineering disciplines, the Academy’s Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowships scheme enhances the links between academia and businesses with each of the prestigious five-year positions co-sponsored by an industrial partner. Each awardee will establish a world-leading research group in their engineering field.
Commenting on the latest announcement of five new Research Chairs and three Senior Research Fellows, Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng FLSW, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor, Cranfield University and Chair of the Academy’s Research Committee, says: “It is very encouraging that one of the Academy’s longest established funding programmes—now in its 35th year—received among its strongest set of applications to date and the number of awards we have made this time reflects this. I remain endlessly impressed at just how creative engineers are at investigating solutions to real-world problems and these projects will deliver societal benefit not only in the UK but also globally. The partnerships that support innovative engineering like this are vital to our future health and prosperity and the Academy values them very highly.”
The Academy has funded 203 awardees since establishing the Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowships programme in 1986.
The five Research Chairs and three Senior Research Fellowships appointed are listed below. More detailed information on each can be found here.
Professor Daniele Dini FREng, Imperial College London
Shell Global Solutions / Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Complex Engineering Interfaces
Climate Change is the single biggest threat to present and future generations and meeting our ambitious targets for net zero greenhouse gas emission will require technology mobilisation on an unprecedented scale. Understanding complex engineering interfaces in products and systems in operating environments is key to successfully delivering innovation in the energy sector. In collaboration with Shell, Professor Dini will address the challenges of predicting the behaviour of these critical interfaces and develop new design strategies. Applications will include lubrication and cooling of interfaces in electric vehicles and nanoscale materials and surface design for optimised energy harvesting/storage devices.
Professor Ruth Misener, Imperial College London
BASF / Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Data-driven Optimisation
Professor Misener aims to transform the intersection between AI and the chemicals industry to help improve sustainability and energy efficiency. Developing data-driven, optimal decision-making under uncertainty is key to achieving a sustainable society. When coupled with societal values and sociological research, these numerical tools can contribute towards wider sustainability objectives, blending traditional, mechanistic model-based optimisation with data-driven optimisation. The long-term vision is to repurpose machine learning methods for the chemicals industry.’
Professor Michael Templeton, Imperial College London
Oxfam and Water For People / Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Global Sanitation Technology
Using robust approaches to designing, testing, and implementing novel onsite sanitation technologies and processes, Professor Templeton aims to address engineering challenges associated with achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to safely managed sanitation. Examples will include more affordable, easier-to-assemble septic tank designs and modular methods to treat faecal sludge in rapidly urbanising cities and emergency settings. His approach combines laboratory experiments, fieldwork, mathematical modelling, and collaboration with in-country practitioners and end users to co-develop engineering solutions that will improve the lives of the poorest members of society in developing countries.
Professor Laurence Tratt, King's College London
Shopify / Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Language Engineering
The standard Virtual Machines (VMs) for programming languages such as Ruby and Python run programs slower than state-of-the-art alternatives with Just-In-Time (JIT) compilers, but many programs are only compatible with the standard VMs, which thus remain dominant. The poor performance of standard VMs damages productivity by wasting programmer time, gives users a poor experience of the software, and contributes to climate change by requiring more servers to be used than should be necessary. Professor Tratt aims to improve the performance of programming languages such as Ruby and Python by retrofitting them with state-of-the-art research techniques taken from JIT compilers. By ‘meta-tracing’ existing VMs, RetroJITs sidesteps the problem of manually creating a JIT, while simultaneously guaranteeing compatibility with programmer expectations.
Professor Yang Hao FREng, Queen Mary University of London
QinetiQ / Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Software Defined Materials
Software Defined Materials, also known as ANIMATE materials, are ones that can be modified by simply uploading and updating computer software. Professor Hao aims to develop these materials to enhance future wireless connectivity in a way that is programmable and flexible for multifunctional applications and that integrates communication, sensing and computation. Complex devices and systems made from these materials will contribute to a circular economy by significantly reducing electronic waste and the cost of materials, as well as energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
Senior Research Fellows
Dr Charles MacLeod, University of Strathclyde
Babcock International Group / Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow in Sensor-Driven Automated High-Integrity Welding
Welding—and the successful fusion of welded joints—is a critical manufacturing process utilised in multiple international sectors including energy, construction and transport. Traditionally, welding and inspection of high-integrity joints are separate, sequential processes, reducing productivity and increasing rework if defects are only detected at completion. This fellowship seeks to introduce the volumetric imaging capability of ultrasonics directly into the welding process and aims to deliver high-integrity welds right first time, every time.
Dr Mehrnoosh Sadrzadeh, University College London
Cambridge Quantum and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow in Engineered Mathematics for Modelling Typed Structures
Recent advances in machine learning have led to significant improvements in reasoning about textual data, yet they are not at a level that makes them readily applicable to all application areas. Dr Sadrzadeh is working on a mathematical model that uses the theory of tensors—higher order algebraic objects native to quantum mechanics—to unify two historically disjointed fields of logic and statistics to enrich the machine learnt features of text with their logical compositions.
Dr Edmund Tarleton, University of Oxford
UKAEA / Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow in Materials Modelling for Fusion Energy
STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is an ambitious programme to deliver a prototype fusion reactor that could pave the way for commercial reactors. Nuclear fusion has the potential to provide a new source of unlimited clean energy but the materials engineering challenges are significant due to the extreme conditions inside the reactor. This fellowship will apply the latest breakthroughs in materials modelling to simulate the behaviour of irradiated engineering alloys to help guide the design of STEP and contribute to making fusion energy a reality.
Notes for Editors
The Royal Academy of Engineering is harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone. In collaboration with our Fellows and partners, we’re growing talent and developing skills for the future, driving innovation and building global partnerships, and influencing policy and engaging the public. Together we’re working to tackle the greatest challenges of our age.
Pippa Cox at the Royal Academy of Engineering
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E: Pippa Cox