Engineering News (February 2018)

ICE 200 showcase aimed at young engineers

This year is the specially designated UK Government’s ‘Year of Engineering’ (visit the official website for more details: www.yearofengineering.gov.uk). It is hoped that the projects that take place this year, aimed at 7-16 year olds, their parents and teachers, will help to inform and increase awareness of what engineers do and their impact on society. This, it is hoped, will encourage more young people into the field of engineering and help to plug skills gaps in the UKs engineering sectors.

There are many engineering partners involved in the delivery of the year including the ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers) and the UK Space Agency. The ICE projects come under the umbrella of the ICE 200 project that showcases 200 civil engineering people and projects that have helped to shape society. This is through a medium of easily accessible and child-friendly resources including short films, case studies, virtual exhibitions, and an interactive ‘invisible superheroes exhibition’. The latter includes cartoon strips highlighting the major engineering projects that have (and continue to) save lives, ad make society better in the areas.  These include:

♦ Smart Infrastructure – covering energy efficiency for burgeoning urban populations
♦ Environmental Impact – combatting the effects of climate change and universal access to clean water
♦ Connected communities – looking at infrastructure projects throughout the world

The people and projects showcased in the ICE exhibition at One Great George Street and online include those from the past and those of today with the aim of inspiring and educating the next generation. They include the Eden Project, Liverpool’s Albert Docks, Crossrail, The Lizard Lifeboat Station and Ironbridge.

And the engineers highlighted in this showcase are:

♦ Dr Anne Kemp, promoting the use of digital assets, BIM and Big Data to improve the delivery of civil engineering projects.
♦ Thomas Telford.
♦ Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
♦ Lloyd Clough – the engineer who develops ways of meeting the needs for affordable residential housing through the design of developments.
♦ Dr Robin Sham – the engineer responsible for designing and the construction of the 24km long Penang Bridge connecting mainland Malaysia to Penang Island.

It is well worth a visit online. All of the ICE resources can be found at https://www.ice.org.uk/ice-200.

Keep calm and Carillion

Business news this year has been dominated by the collapse of the UK construction giant Carillion, and its consequences. Carillion contracts, at the point of liquidation in January 2018, included building sections of the HS2 rail project, maintaining around 50,000 MOD properties, building and managing services at 900 schools, services for network rail and the management and maintenance of around half of the UK’s prisons. After three profit warnings in the space of 5 months last year, the UK’s second largest construction company went into liquidation reporting debts of around £1.5 billion with a pension deficit of around £600 million.

The UK government has reportedly had a contingency plan in place for a while, and many other construction companies and other businesses have rallied around helping to re-employ staff and keep the services, previously supplied by Carillion, going. Murphy has bought Carillion’s UK Power Network business, Galliford Try, Balfour Beatty and Nationwide have also taken on staff recently displaced from Carillion. Kier has also taken on many ex-Carillion staff as well as responsibility for some of the construction projects such as HS2 (in an equal joint venture project with the French company Eiffage), and work on the introduction of the Smart motorways project in conjunction with Highways England.

Small to Medium enterprises who worked with Carillion that are impacted by their collapse are eligible to apply for government backed loans by high street lenders to help them deal with the impact of Carillion’s demise.

Unions and MP’s have many questions and recommendations for the company’s top executives, including the RMT union calling on the government to bring the work on the rail infrastructure in house to Network Rail.

The consequences and questions continue.

Around the brain with Virtual Reality

The 1987 film ‘Inner Space’ was a comedy based on miniaturised scientists in an exploration pod being accidently injected into a man and travelling around his body. A virtual reality programme has been released to allow one to take this journey in a more pleasant and possible way – in particular a journey (or ‘walkthrough’) the human brain. One of the programmes is a ‘Unimersiv’ app which works in conjunction with the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift.

Some of the imagery on the more widely available software is an ‘artistic representation’ however scientists in Geneva have developed a virtual reality programme that allows them to explore images generated by powerful microscopes. These VR programmes were developed to work with the vast amount of information being gathered by their labs ever increasingly powerful microscopes. One of these microscopes can see individual neurons. Later this technology could be linked with special MRI probes, in real time, allowing investigative work in more depth that currently available. Pharmacological modelling of drugs using software is already a well-used instrument but this is another area that could see further application using VR and 3D microscopic images.

The brain is an area that has seen amazing research advances over the last 20 years and the amount of data that has been collected and the overall neuroscientific function is understood better now. However, there are still elements of the brain structure and function that could be masked from us, but the development of this technology is likely to teach us more about the interactions between areas of the brains and help to combat diseases of the nervous system and their symptoms.

Ordnance Survey helps drives change on the roads

Ordnance Survey (OS) are well respected in the UK for their mapping and data resources. It therefore seems a logical choice that the business secretary Greg Clark has assigned to OS the job of developing the infrastructure that will be used by driverless cars.

The project is destined to take 4 years initially and will ensure that Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV’s) are capable of moving around efficiently and safely around the infrastructure of the UK. OS believes that their work and their evidence-based strategies and recommendations will mean that the UK acts as a trailblazer in the use of CAV’s.

The research and eventual introduction of CAV’s is part of the governments Industrial Strategy and the Automotive Sector Deal. This infrastructure research and development comes after the hugely successful OS run ‘Atlas’ project that looked at initial effectiveness of the travel of driverless cars in collaboration with the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and Sony Europe Ltd amongst others.

Now you see them…

A new material has been developed by researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois, that bends light in a particular way. The material is known as a type of negative refraction material and it could actually be used to produce an invisibility cloak – the stuff of science fiction, or childhood dreams!

The material can be programmed to have a specific pattern to give out any colour that can be seen by the human eye in a process similar to the one used to make computer chips driven by programmable DNA. The fact that the structure can be so closely controlled and ‘programmed’ to be in a certain alignment means that the technology can be used over larger areas (such as the cloaks!) however its initial uses will likely be medical and environmental uses. The complex lattices in the material consist of a framework of DNA and gold nanoparticles that are arranged in lattices of a specific 2D and 3D structure.

The ‘architecture’ of these superlattices determine the colours that the materials appear to be. As the structures are optically active, they can potentially refract light to appear invisible.  It is thought, however, that a full size Harry Potter style invisibility cloak is probably around 4-5 years away.

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Engineering News – January 2018

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