Sheffield engineer takes research to Parliament

Alistair John, a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering attended Parliament in March to present his research to a range of politicians and a panel of expert judges, as part of SET for Britain.

Alistair JohnAlistair’s research is into the aerodynamic design of the rotating compressor blades that form the first section of a jet engine. The blade tip speeds can be in excess of 1000mph and complex conditions with supersonic flow features mean that they are very challenging to design. The blades must be capable of compressing the incoming air against the natural direction of flow while maximising aerodynamic efficiency to minimise losses and fuel burn.

His work investigates the use of a novel design shaping method to produce blades with increased efficiency. A 3D geometry design approach is used where the blade shape is controlled by a Free-Form-Deformation grid comprising of a series of points that can be moved to deform the geometry. Advanced computational fluid dynamics simulation allows the assessment of hundreds of designs, and optimisation techniques are used to search for an optimal blade shape.

Alistair was shortlisted from hundreds of applicants to appear in Parliament and his poster was judged against dozens of scientists’ research in the only national competition of its kind.
“I was honoured to have the opportunity to promote my research to members of parliament and leading industrial figures,” says Alistair, “One of the aims of the event was to showcase the work of promising early-career researchers and raise awareness of the importance of investment in UK research. It felt good to be able to contribute to that.

“One of the main things I learnt was how to explain my work to people outside my field, who might not have a science based degree. I had to write the abstract, create the poster and explain my work in a way that anyone could understand.”

President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, said “Engineers make a difference in all our lives. They create solutions to the issues we face as individuals and as a society. SET for Britain provides a great opportunity for these innovators to connect with the decision makers in Parliament, to showcase the superb engineering research being carried out in the UK, and the new technologies that can help improve our lives and drive new growth in our industries. From new materials that ensure safe drinking water to novel uses of 3D printing for efficient energy storage, the research exhibited at SET for Britain provides a glimpse of the talent at work in the UK today.”

Stephen Metcalfe MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, said, “This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country’s best young researchers.

“These early career engineers, mathematicians and scientists are the architects of our future and SET for Britain is politicians’ best opportunity to meet them and understand their work.”