What happens when bombs explode?

Our Blast & Impact Engineering group are getting to the heart of what happens inside an explosion, in a new project aimed at improving the design of bomb protection systems.

A blast as part of the Mechanisms and Characterisation of Explosions project for civil engineering

The team will be measuring explosions ‘up close’, gathering detailed information from inside the fireball of different types of blast and different environmental conditions, ranging from a land mine to a bomb exploding close to a building.

As global threats from terrorist attacks or armed conflict increase each year, effective materials, buildings and other structures that can withstand a blast are vital to increase public safety.

Despite this, little data has been gathered from actual bomb blasts, so engineers have to rely on computer modelling when designing protection systems.

Professor Andy Tyas notes that "just like earthquakes and hurricanes, real-world explosions are unpredictable.

Seismic and wind engineers have designed tests to predict how buildings and other structures will respond to these natural disasters, but it’s much harder to do this for explosions.”

Although blast engineers do test structures and materials to assess their protection capability, there’s a lot of debate about the reliability of these tests and a heavy reliance on computer modelling of explosions. That’s because we don’t really know what’s going on inside the blast, so we can’t tell for sure how repeatable the tests are.

Prof. Andy Tyas

Lead investigator and an expert in blast and impact engineering

The £1.2M project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will be carried out at the University’s research facilities, in Buxton.

The first step will be to improve and adapt the CoBL (Characterisation of Blast Loading) testing equipment, previously used by Professor Tyas and his team to measure the output from shallowly buried landmines.

New technologies will enable the apparatus to carry out direct measurements of the blast load, in both space and time, to provide detailed data on the aggressive environment after an explosive is detonated very close to a target. 

“Blast loading research carried out during the middle of the last century led to a very good understanding of the effects of large blasts over long distances – for example from atomic weapons.

But these insights are less useful when looking at modern day blast threats, which are frequently from smaller, close-range explosions,” says Professor Tyas.

“Only by understanding the complex physics and fundamental chemical reactions at play inside the explosion fireball, can we allow our engineers a better understanding of blast loading. These insights will help us design better systems to protect people around the world from explosive attacks."

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Top 100 Civil & Structural Engineering department in the world and 9th in the UK according to the QS World University rankings by subject (2023).

10th in the UK according to the Times University League Table (2024).

12th in the UK according to the Complete University Guide (2024).