Making mud-powered robots for schools

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In October, FET awarded the team at the Bioenergy Centre a public engagement and outreach award. The Centre are using this fund to support the production of an interactive workshop for schools – Mud powered robots!

Research Associate Pavlina Theodosiou, who led the project until her move to Newcastle University in January, provides an update here on this exciting workshop.

Before Christmas, Pavlina worked hard alongside electronics engineer technician, Ugnius Barajunas, to obtain quotes from various companies for the prototype motors – the most expensive part of the robot.

At the same time, the two assembled different electronic boards with the 3D printed parts and borrowed motors, to create three robots. The robots were tested with live Microbial FuelCells in the lab and ran well on urine (but don’t worry, they won’t be run on urine in school!)

They presented their results at the a best-in-class overview of robotics and automation, which BotTalks hosted at the watershed in November. The team are now excited about trialling the robots on mud for the first time!

“Overall the project received a lot of interest from public and investors at BotTalks.”

Pavlina
Pavlina and Ugnius speak about the importance of bringing these scientific discoveries to schools to help children get interested in STEM

Later in the year, the workshop will be taken into Sea Mills Primary School for the Year 6s to get stuck into.

Student wins STEM innovation award

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UWE’s very own fourth year Mechanical Engineering student, Henry James, won this year’s Telegraph STEM Awards.

The Telegraph STEM Awards offer undergraduates the chance to prove their talent to some of the biggest names in industry. Now in its seventh year, the students were asked to tackle problems from the personal to the global.

Henry’s innovation – “Grid Grow” – developed a way to make modular homes sustainable using renewable technologies.

“My concept, GridGrow, looks to improve modular housing developments by aligning them with the need to reduce our carbon footprint,” he explains. “This is done by using renewable technologies that can be integrated into a modular development with ease.

“Integrating energy production with modular housing hasn’t been done before, but looking at modular housing in this way makes it more attractive to developers, while also addressing global warming and the UK’s housing needs.”

Henry was quoted in the Telegraph’s official announcement on 24th April.

COVID-19 forced judging online, and from being announced as one of four category winners in the semi-final, Henry was then announced the winner in the final round.

Find out more about Henry’s idea and the other finalists here.

Co-producing an arboretum-meadow with local eco-warriors

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Helen Hoyle, senior lecturer in Healthy Built Environments, was awarded FET public engagement funds, for her project to “Future-proof Luton” – co-producing an air-quality arboretum meadow on a former mini-golf site. Helen, along with MSc Urban Planning student, William Cotrill, have been working hard to move the project forward – getting trees planted and local school children involved.

Getting planting

In November, Helen secured extra funding from the Landscape Institute to kick the project off – planting nine mature trees on the selected site.

Production of the arboretum-meadow is a joint project that includes input from the Luton Parks Service, River Bank Primary School, the Landscape Institute and Pictorial Meadows (a seed supplier and consultancy).

Local eco-warriors

Then on 10th February, Helen and William worked with 10 young eco-warriors at Riverbank Primary School in Luton. They started with workshops exploring the benefits of trees for climate change and air pollution mitigation, then moved outdoors into the new arboretum to get down to tree planting.

Read more about the activities with the local eco-warriors on the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments blog.

The next stage of the project is to sow a flowering meadow in April. School closures will prevent pupils being involved but Helen still hopes to deliver this in partnership with Luton Parks Service.

Celebrate a PhD – fuel blends to reduce emissions

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With all the fantastically fascinating research going on in Engineering, Design and Mathematics, PhD student successes are a regular occurrence. We want to celebrate with the students as they pass their vivas, so may this post be the first of many!

Adriaan Van Niekerk passed his PhD viva in early February – Congratulations Doctor Van Niekerk! He’s kindly answered a few questions about his PhD project…

  • Can you summarize your research project?

I looked at how we can reduce diesel car emissions such as NOx by using fuel blends between diesel, biodiesel and ethanol and also increase the renewable content of the blend as per the government targets. I found that a fuel blend containing 2% biodiesel and 9% ethanol can reduce NOx by 10% and CO by 34%. 

  • What outcomes have there been from your project?

I managed to publish my results in two high impact journals, Applied Energy and Fuel, which is really great!

  • Were there any particularly tough stages during the PhD? How did you get through that?

The engine I used to do all my experimental testing on decided to break. All four of its fuel injectors got blocked up. It took me really long to figure out what was wrong with it, and it set me back approximately 6 months!

This was really tough as I had to change my planning completely. Luckily I could focus on writing up most of my PhD which helped a lot at the end as most of the writing and reviewing was done. 

  • What are your plans now the PhD has finished?

I have accepted a Lecturer position here at UWE with the Mechanical and Automotive cluster. I hope to build on my PhD research by looking at using renewable fuels together with hybrid technologies to speed up the uptake of more sustainable technologies for propulsion in automotive and aerospace applications.

Good luck in the new role Adriaan!

EDM culture supports family life

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Senior lecturer and head of EDM’s Equity Diversity and Inclusivity committee, Laura Fogg-Rogers is passionate about communicating engineering to new audiences.

“Engineering can make a difference to our future, but it’s got an image problem in that people don’t think it’s relevant to society. I’m trying to change representations of engineering and show some of the amazing things that can be done, both through educating our engineers and communicating with schools.”

Communication is key for diversifying engineering, but inclusive support from employers, like UWE, is also essential to enable those who’ve joined the profession, to continue.

Laura’s background is in science communication but working for UWE for the past seven years has given her first-hand experience of how the department supports progression of those with families, and, is continuing that support in the current COVID-19 crisis. 

“When I first arrived at UWE, I only had one young child and when I got pregnant with my second child they were brilliant with maternity leave and also return to work. 

My line managers understand the situation and have been really supportive of me, so I’ve always been able to balance and pursue what I want to do, whilst still being able to be around with my kids as well. As I’ve developed projects of my own choice, I’ve slowly worked up my hours, from 3 to 4, and now 5 days a week. 

The culture as a whole in EDM is quite supportive of family demands, with meetings taking place after 10am and generally finishing by 4pm, to fit around school pick-ups and drop-offs. And when I’ve done teaching, they’ve been really supportive of organising teaching time to fit with the hours that I can do.” 

Laura’s particularly impressed by how UWE is protecting full pay for staff who are now juggling home-schooling responsibilities during the school shutdown in response to COVID-19. 

“I think we are really lucky working at UWE. There is a big understanding that with schools closed, work time is massively cut down and UWE has been really supportive of that. 

Lisa Brodie, head of the department, has been emphasizing a focus on what we can produce rather than the hours worked. It’s been great to have that understanding during all this craziness.” 

Laura’s experience as a working mum, has given her a good understanding of how supporting employees is crucial for a flourishing workforce. She used this experience in leading EDM’s recent bid to achieve renewal of a Bronze Athena SWAN award. Now Laura, along with other members of EDM’s Equity Diversity and Inclusivity committee, is taking further steps to embed inclusivity in the department, and it’s not just for staff… 

“The amazing thing is that we are embedding equity, diversity and inclusion into our student programme from September. Getting students thinking about these sort of practices and ideas whilst at UWE, to then take into their future work-life.” 

Alumni listed on 2020 Future List by Northern Power Women

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Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee graduated in 2010 from the MEng Aerospace Engineering programme and now works as a Flight Systems Engineer at BAE Systems. She’s worked hard to change perceptions of STEM careers, and has been officially recognised on the 2020 Future List by Northern Power Women.

Northern Power Women have added 52 amazing individuals to the Future List, all who have contributed to making a difference in their communities and organisations, as well as raising awareness of gender equality across the North of England. 
 
The Future List recognises the leaders and change makers of the future who are already making a difference in their environments and communities. 

“I feel very passionate about inspiring more young girls to consider STEM careers, especially after my own experiences of studying and working in an environment in which the majority of people are male.
Volunteering to talk to young people has taken me out of my comfort zone but seeing the excitement and wonder on their faces when I talk about my career gives me personal fulfilment. I aspire to help change perceptions of what an Engineer looks like and to be the role model I wish I’d had when I was growing up.”

Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee

The winners of the Northern Power Women Awards will be announced on 16 March at a gala awards night and dinner at the Manchester Central Convention Complex. The winners will continue to be showcased throughout the year, to ensure ongoing visibility for the role models and to use their presence to inspire.

Read the full announcement.

Eco-Bricks in City Hall and Whitehall School

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Back in October, Sara Williams was awarded FET Public Engagement and Outreach funding for her Eco-Brick outreach project – since then she’s been busy driving the project forward!

(Eco-bricks are made by filling plastic bottles with waste plastic and can be used to build almost anything, including simple furniture and art projects. Weighing an eco-brick ensures its’ quality for building and quantifies the plastic saved)

Children Debate in City Chambers

Children, 6 – 11 years of age, from nine Bristol primary schools, became eco-councillors at City Hall on January 8th – the first Eco-school council.

In the chambers, children debated the climate emergency and thought about how they can make changes in their schools.

Everyone was then pleased to hear from Mayor Marvin Rees, who was amazed and encouraged by the children’s views.

In workshops, the children discussed the issues of single use plastic and plastic waste, learned how to make Eco-bricks and brainstormed what could be built using Eco-bricks in their schools.

Bristol City Council, Children’s scrapstore the Global foals centre and Bricking it Bristol, helped Sara organise the event.

Bricking it in Whitehall School

Following on from the Eco-school council success, Sara went with Bricking it Bristol into Whitehall School, for the first of three Eco-brick projects. You can see the products of the workshop in the above photograph!

In the next phase of the project Sara is running two parent workshops at Whitehall – good luck Sarah, we look forward to hearing how the project progresses.

EDM set to lead skills development in new £10 million digital engineering centre

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UWE Bristol will play a central role in a new £10 million digital engineering centre for the region.

The Centre for Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) is a research, innovation and skills initiative created to develop and accelerate digital engineering across multiple industry sectors, to ultimately benefit future generations of engineers and engineering products, and to help tackle global challenges.

A collaboration of industry and academic partners, DETI is led by the National Composites Centre (NCC) and supported by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA). WECA awarded £5m to the centre – match £5m investment from West of England businesses who are at the forefront of industry.

EDM’s role

Dr Lisa Brodie, Head of UWE Bristol’s Department of Engineering Design and Mathematics (EDM), who led UWE’s bid, said: “This is a vitally important investment for our region and we are pleased to be leading on the skills and workforce development element of the centre’s work. It comes at a perfect time as we prepare to open our new engineering building where we will have state-of-the-art digital engineering facilities and an increased focus on digital engineering to train our graduates for emerging roles in the sector.”

EDM will create an integrated education and workforce development capability programme, and talent pipeline, all to inspire, introduce, convert and specialise. And it will promote an inclusive diverse workforce, crucial for creativity and innovation.

Training courses related to advanced digital engineering will be developed to increase skills and retrain those in the current workforce.

Schools will also be engaged with, particularly in less affluent parts of the West of England, with the aim to reach 1,000 children and inspire them to pursue a career in digital engineering.

DETI is not a new building but will use existing facilities and assets at various partners facilities, including UWE Bristol’s new engineering building.

Links to the local industrial strategy

West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles said: “DETI will be a nationally important centre, based in the West of England. It will help secure the future of the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries and is a key part of our Local Industrial Strategy ambition to strengthen cross-sectoral innovation and support our region’s ambition for clean and inclusive growth.”

The centre will work with leading companies and support industry to reduce carbon emissions by producing better products – products that are lighter, more fuel efficient and have less waste – through undertaking research and innovation in the virtual world.

Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Cllr Toby The Tobester Savage said: “Over the past decade or so the Filton Enterprise Area, UWE Bristol, MoD and the Bristol and Bath Science Park have formed a powerful network of world-leading innovation in aerospace, engineering and defence. We are therefore delighted to see South Gloucestershire hosting the DETI project which we believe will be of national and international significance to the future of clean energy and low carbon transport.

“This geography is increasingly recognised as the South Gloucestershire ‘TEC ARC’ and we look forward to working closely with multiple stakeholders to ensure that the project grows this critical sector of our economy, but also engages widely across the region through schools and colleges to give new experiences and opportunities in the development of STEM skills.”

Organisations investing in DETI alongside WECA and the NCC include UWE Bristol, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, GKN, Baker Hughes and CFMS. DETI will also receive contributions in kind from Siemens and Toshiba. The project has already engaged with over 100 companies across the region, including disrupters TechSPARK and Smartia, and companies covering sectors such as renewable energy, marine, aerospace and electronics.

See the full press release posted on the UWE News pages.

Machine Vision Impacts Farming

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Technology from the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV) has been making moves to improve animal welfare and maximize crop harvesting.

Herdvision

First off, the 3D imagery system, Herdvision, that helps farmers assess cows’ wellbeing, was featured on the BBC six o’clock news in 2019 as it began a trial by Arla UK 360 farmers.

The technology developed in collaboration with Kingshay and AgsenZe, uses visual monitoring, data recording and automated intelligence to identify changes in each cow’s physical wellbeing, mobility and weight, before they are visible to the human eye.

Facial recognition used to assess pig’s emotions

Animal behaviourists from Scotland’s Rural College in Edinburgh, are using the technology provided by machine vision experts at UWE, to picture a range of pig facial expressions. The hope is that emotions can be identified and facial recognition used to improve pig welfare.

The BBC reported on the study in spring last year and the work is due to appear as part of a Netflix program in 2020.

Harvest Eye

The potato harvester based data capture system –Harvest Eye – provides insight on size, count and crop variation on unwashed potatoes as they are harvested. The integrated data analytics shows precisely what is being lifted and from where in the field, insights that will help maximise marketable yield and reduce crop imbalance.

The technology’s utility was recognised at the Potato Industry Event 2019/20, when it picked up second prize (out of 15 nominations) .

Harvest Eye was developed by CMV for B-hive, who then patented the technology in collaboration with CMV, and now B-Hive / Branston have established a new company, HarvestEye Ltd, to supply the HarvestEye technology to Grimme,a major manufacturer of root crop harvesters.

But the team at CMV aren’t stopping there.

“We’re working on a new funding bid right now to add functionality.”

Melvyn Smith, CMV
Mark Hansen, who led development of the technology, represented CMV, as part of the team that picked up the award. 

“Being different is a strength in engineering”

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Maryam Lamere

In recognition of the department’s equity, diversity and inclusion, Engineering, Design and Mathematics (EDM) was recently re-awarded the Athena Swan Bronze Award. Graduate tutor and member of EDM’s Athena Swan committee, Maryam Lamere explains how the department supports diversity and caters for families.

In her own words, as a black, Muslim, woman, Maryam is “a minority, within the minorities”. However, she doesn’t view the multi-faceted aspects of her identity as a barrier in EDM.

“I don’t allow my identity to become a barrier to reaching my goals. EDM’s friendly and supportive environment makes me feel confident to fully own my identity. Here, my differences are my strength.

EDM celebrates diversity and believes that engineering as a profession benefits when people bring in various perspectives and are able to tackle problems from different angles. Gender, cultural and neuro-diversity can all be useful in the workplace.”

Maryam Lamere

Maryam teaches undergraduate students, while also working to transfer UWE technology (pee powered electronics) to communities in Africa for her PhD. Since starting the role, Maryam’s family has grown, and she was able to fluctuate her hours to balance childcare needs.

“EDM is really good at making things manageable for people who have families. I have a young family, with three little boys now aged three, five and seven, and if this role hadn’t have been so flexible it would have been pretty challenging to pull it all together.”

Maryam Lamere
Maryam speaking to students during project week Nov 2019

Changing the image of engineering

There’s no denying that engineering needs a change of image to encourage young people to fill the engineering skills and diversity shortfall in the UK. In a bid to overturn the narrow stereotype of engineering, the Royal Academy of Engineering launched their image library in November 2019, to demonstrate the diversity of the profession – see if you can spot Maryam and other engineers in the department!

UWE has also signed the pledge below, promising to make representative images of engineers and engineering more visible to the public.