Blog

Science and Engineering have the power to change the world we live in!

Introduction

My name is Marcello and I earned my PhD in particle physics at the University of Manchester, in 2013. Since then, I have been working as a researcher for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). 

STFC is a UK government body that carries out civil research in science and engineering, and funds UK research in areas including particle physics, nuclear physics, space science and astronomy.

I work in the technology department and I am involved in projects dealing with the building of instrumentation for experiments in nuclear physics. This type of instrumentation is not available commercially because it has very particular requirements. Hence, STFC employs dedicated teams of physicists and engineers to build this type of equipment. And I am one of them!

My experience.

I decided to continue my education after the age of 18 and so enrolled in a bachelor’s degree of physics at the University of Manchester. This decision opened up many opportunities in my life.

I gained an objective view of natural phenomena and increased my employability.

Science and engineering have the power to change the world we live in. These subjects produce the most amazing technology and fuel the economy of many countries. For this reason, the analytical thinking of a physicist is highly valued in the job market.

As a student, I did not always find physics easy to understand and did not like all of its different branches equally. My favorite topic is the interaction of radiation with matter, so I decided to specialize in this area for my masters and PhD.

An education in physics gave me the opportunity to study and work in an environment which is professional, multicultural and at the forefront of human knowledge.

From the neighborhood I grew up in, I found myself involved in international projects investigating important questions about our existence. I spent time in laboratories in other countries to exchange information about my work. During this time, I also made strong friendships and discovered new places.

The knowledge I gained in high-school in mathematics, physics and computer science, has been beneficial to my career.

To summarise, I wanted to include some figures about salaries of researches in the initial and middle stages of their careers:

-  PhD student (22-25 years old): about £12,000 per year. 

-  Post-doc researcher (25-35 years old): from £28,000 to £35,000 per year.

-  Academic staff or senior researcher (35-45 years old): from £35,000 to £45,000.

Salaries will increase even further for managerial positions within Universities or Research Institutes and are generally higher in the private sector.

Further details

Apprenticeships are really good opportunities to boost your experience in science and engineering and I’ve found that it is easier to find apprenticeships in engineering than in science. Engineering or IT apprenticeships are valuable opportunities for aspiring scientists.

https://www.stfc.ac.uk/1485.aspx

Some organizations that help people to enter top Universities.

http://www.socialmobility.org.uk/

Get involved and become a STEM Ambassador.

http://www.stemnet.org.uk/


 

Making robot airplanes

Introduction

My name is Bilal Kaddouh and I am currently in the third year of my PhD at the University of Manchester. I have completed my BEng (Hons) with distinction in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the American University of Beirut in 2010, and then decided to concentrate on Robotics and Control, hence I did a MSc (Hons) in Robotics Engineering at King’s College London where I graduated with distinction in 2011. I am currently a Doctorate Candidate at the University of Manchester in the field of Aerospace Engineering. My main research area is concerned with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), in particular system and mission management, resources allocation, collaborative control and efficient planning.

I have worked for a year with Cummins Power Generation as a project application engineer which gave me an insight to real life work problems as well as a practical experience in applying my engineering knowledge to solve those problems. I was also responsible for delivering technical training to distributors all over Europe and the Middle East, this gave me a practical experience in teaching and conveying knowledge to students. 

Through my research I aim to design a method for efficiently managing multi UAV resources in the civil airspace under temporal and dynamic constraints. In simple words, given a set of required tasks that needs to be completed within a certain time window, I am creating a system of rules which allows a group of UAVs to decide what each UAV is going to be doing at each point in time so that all the required tasks are completed in the most efficient way while the UAVs are flying in a safe condition all the time.


In Depth

What is a UAV?

UAVs are airplanes without a pilot onboard. Their computational capabilities vary from simple remotely piloted airplanes to highly sophisticated autonomous flying platforms. They are essentially flying robots, and the aim of my research is to let the robots decide what to do to efficiently achieve various goals. UAVs can carry different sensors onboard, like cameras, infrared sensors, CO2 sensors, laser scanners, radars and so on. Due to current advancement in electronics UAVs possess an increasing level of computational power onboard for performing real time processing and decision making.

Why multiple UAVs?

UAVs are being used in various civilian applications such as remote sensing, aerial photography, crop health monitoring, emergency response, firefighting, atmospheric studies and many more. Many applications in the civilian world involve multiple teams working on the ground together in real time to accomplish a certain mission such as disaster management and relief, large event management security protection and crowd control, emergency services, firefighting ... A Multi User Multi UAV system is important for real time data gathering, in particular for live aerial imagery. When talking about a multi user application we are not considering single task multi users we are focusing on multi task multi users which gives users different task options to choose from.

Currently all commercial UAV operations models are built around one user flying one UAV. People are now slowly introducing UAVs into various applications for the added value it brings to any operation. Current trend of research has been focusing on moving from multiple operators managing one UAV to one operator managing many UAVs and therefore we find contributions in the operator situational awareness systems, in task allocation systems and in real time data processing. We will probably get to a point where UAVs are allowed to fly autonomous missions under certain rules and regulations enforced by the appropriate aviation authority. When we get to that stage, systems allowing one user to control multiple UAVs would be desirable.

What is the problem?

As a UAV operator, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made in terms of what sensors to install and how to plan and execute the required mission safely and efficiently. The problem gets complicated when multiple versatile UAVs are to be used especially when deciding on which ones to use and what factors to consider and so on. Therefore, the workload faced by the operator is overwhelming. With the flexibility and diversity available in a multi UAV system, it becomes impossible for an operator to take all those decisions in a timely manner and in an efficient way. Computerized automatic resource management systems are designed to answer those questions.

What is my approach?

The future

Technology is developing fast and many advancements are not yet accessible to the public. Effective management systems of multiple UAVs will allow this cutting-edge technology to be utilized by everyone. Instead of having to own and learn how to control a UAV yourself and having limited resources on your particular machine, soon you will be able to benefit from the numerous services of a UAV simply by using an app on your mobile phone or by visiting a website. The key for succeeding in a UAV resource sharing system is an efficient resource allocation system, and that’s where my research comes in.


Going Further

For more information about UoM UAV Research Group: http://uavs.mace.manchester.ac.uk/

For more information about aerospace system group: http://www.mace.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-themes/aerospace-engineering/specialisms/aerospace-systems/

For more information about studying aerospace: http://www.mace.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/aerospace-engineering/meng-aerospace-engineering-4years/

Some ted talks about UAVs:

https://www.ted.com/talks/andreas_raptopoulos_no_roads_there_s_a_drone_for_that

http://www.ted.com/talks/raffaello_d_andrea_the_astounding_athletic_power_of_quadcopters?language=en

A video indicating the simplicity and important usages of UAVs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9n0TRpcIw8


 

Social media as a learning tool

Introduction

My name is Laura, and I am taking a year away from being a medical student to complete a masters in Health Care Ethics and Law. Medical schools call this year out an "intercalation year" and offers it to all medical students interested in earning an extra science-related degree on top of their current medical degree. In my fourth-year at medical school, I started a research project to explore how medical students used social media to achieve their learning goals. Is there a place for social media in an academic institution at all? Can social media actually benefit students rather than be a distraction? This was what I wanted to find out. Right now, the study has gone international with medical schools as far as Australia, North America, Saudi Arabia and many more taking part!


In Depth

I think it is safe to say that most of you are on some sort of social media website, whether that is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. At the very least you will have heard of them. Mostly they are used for leisure purposes, but could they also offer some learning benefits?

For a while now, higher education institutions have adopted social media technology as a means of delivering curricula. Medicine is a discipline that has only just started to look into this possibility. Our research study has identified several ways in which social media is currently used to facilitate curricula delivery and supplement independent learning:

-  Creating Facebook groups with peers to extend small group seminar discussions to the online world

-  Sharing of academic resources and journals via social media

-  Fast, effective communication channels between peers and lecturers irrespective of classroom hours and physical location

-  Following hastags on Twitter appropriate to the subject they are learning

-  Searching YouTube videos for practical procedure demonstrations or tutorials

-  Instagram-like applications available to doctors and medical students where they can share and discuss pictures of clinical examination findings, blood test results, chest x-rays, electrocardiograms, MRI/CT scans etc.

-  Using interactive twitter feeds in classrooms to answer students' questions and encourage participation

The list could go on. The body of research literature available to date indicates there are positive outcomes to the implementation of social media technology into the medical curriculum which outweighs any drawbacks - increased motivation and engagement with study material, increased likelihood of seeking academic support, improved exam scores, improved confidence with the subject and better knowledge retention. The study is still ongoing and the next phase will involve investigating whether attitudes towards social media use in medical education differs between countries or cultures. 


Going Further

To find out more about studying medicine at undergraduate level or doing an intercalation year, see:

Manchester Medical School http://www.mms.manchester.ac.uk

Intercalation year http://www.mms.manchester.ac.uk/about-us/whymanchester/education/intercalation/


 

Recreating the conditions inside the sun

Introduction

Hello! My name is Asad and I’m a PhD student at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. Within my PhD, I work in the relatively recent field of nuclear fusion. More specifically, I look at the effects of plasma damage and neutron irradiation (both known phenomenon that occur within nuclear fusion) on materials that could be used to build a potential fusion reactor.

A little bit about my background first. Before I embarked on my PhD, I completed a Master of Engineering (MEng) in Mechanical Engineering with a minor focus on Nuclear Engineering. I also did some part time study in mathematics and research projects within fluid mechanics. Of the latter, a noteworthy one is that I constructed a mathematical model of the acoustics of a banjo!


In Depth

Science has always intrigued mankind. Some of the foremost questions we have been obsessed with are the simple ones:

·  “Where did we come from?”

·  “Why are we here?”

·  “What do we do?”

No matter who you ask, you will realise that we still don’t really know the answers to these; whether we look for philosophical reasoning or scientific. We search high and low for answers. Our universe is at the centre of such research. And at the centre of our universe: the sun.

The sun can be considered a giant ball of energy. The manner in which this energy is generated is referred to as nuclear fusion. As the human species observed this, we felt the urge to exploit the process to aid our need for energy, in order to survive on a world where resources are rapidly depleting.

What exactly is nuclear fusion? The answer is a result of work done by pioneering scientists such as Ernest Rutherford, Pierre Curie and Marie Curie. We find that certain atoms of elements undergo interesting transitions. We have been able to exploit these, such as nuclear fission which is currently a dominant process to generate electricity. Within fission, we find that under the right conditions, some of the atoms will split and become smaller releasing energy in the process. Fusion is the opposite; some atoms combine and through the process release energy. It has been found that the energy released through fusion could potentially be more sustainable, cleaner, and less fraught with the risks associated with the energy generated through fission. 

Thus we are now engaged in a global technological race to be able to achieve the right conditions for fusion on earth. Thus far we have managed to recreate the conditions. However, we still haven’t managed to be able to maintain these for long enough, nor have we been able to extract power from it. We have some ideas on how to achieve both. One of the questions however is, do we have the materials to be able to do so?


This is where people like me come in. Thus far I have spoken about how this is a relatively new process mingled with a plethora of difficulties. Therefore, it will not be surprising when I say that we don’t exactly have the appropriate facilities to be able to entirely comprehend the extreme effects taking place. So how do we go about solving the problem? Some people try and use proxies, alternative approaches that in some way mimic certain effects we expect. Others try to use computational techniques and our understanding of physics to paint a picture. I’m involved in the latter. I use modelling and simulation to try and deduce what we expect. It isn’t as simple as pushing a button however. One needs to be aware of a lot of inter-related pieces of physics. Sometimes, we also find that we don’t have the computational power to actually be able to process all of these (surprising isn’t it given the progress in the field of IT).  Sometimes my job is therefore to see which processes are negligible. At other times, it is to check and draw conclusions from the results of my simulations. To name a few of the techniques I use; I use solvers for the neutron transport equation, binary collision approximation and molecular dynamics. The last considers how atoms are likely to behave. This generates some interesting perceptions of important chemical and atomic processes.

I’ll stop here. I’ll end on a note that the human race is currently engaged in very exciting things. But to see this realised; we need young, ambitious and creative minds that are keen to learn as well as try new things. 


Going Further

If you want any more information, please feel free to contact me at: asad.hussain@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk . 

To find out more about the chemical and atomic processes generated in molecular dynamics: http://lammps.sandia.gov/movies.html

A more comprehensive yet elementary guide on nuclear physics can be found at (http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/nuccon.html)

Here are also some web links pertinent to what I have written: 

Culham Center for Fusion Energy: http://www.ccfe.ac.uk/introduction.aspx

Nuclear Energy Agency: http://www.oecd-nea.org/workareas/

Fusion Center for Doctoral Training: http://www.york.ac.uk/fusion-cdt/


 

Exercise as a form of treatment for mental illness

Introduction

My name is Joe and I’ve just begun the 2nd year of my PhD in Medicine. I am researching how we can use physical exercise to improve people’s mental health. Specifically, I work with young people (from 18 years onwards), who are experiencing serious mental health problems for the first time in their lives – a condition which is referred to as “First Episode Psychosis”. I am investigating whether specially designed physical exercise routines can help people with First Episode Psychosis to feel healthier; in the body, and also in the mind. 


In Depth

What is First Episode Psychosis

First Episode Psychosis is the first 5 years of any ‘psychotic disorder’, such as Schizophrenia. This affects around 1 in 100 people, and most often starts around the age of 18. The most recognisable symptoms of first-episode psychosis are hearing voices, seeing things which other people cannot see (hallucinations), delusional beliefs and paranoia. Along with these, there are often less obvious symptoms of people severely lacking in motivation, feeling depressed, withdrawing from society and becoming reclusive.

Current Treatment

The most common treatment for first-episode psychosis is antipsychotic medications: There are tablets that sufferers can take which greatly reduce the symptoms of hearing voices, delusions etc. However, people taking these tablets often relapse within a few years, or need higher and higher doses overtime for them to remain effective. Furthermore, antipsychotics do not help with the symptoms of social withdrawal and inability to feel motivated. Unfortunately, it is these unseen symptoms which can really prevent people from living a happy and fulfilling life.

What do I Investigate?

I am investigating whether we can use physical exercise for first-episode psychosis, as an extra treatment for all the different types of symptoms so that they need fewer medications and feel better overall in life. To do this, people with first-episode psychosis are sent to me from their mental health service. I design them a special exercise routine and then take them to the gym twice-per-week for 10 weeks to train with them. In the exercise sessions, we do running, rowing and cycling to work on their fitness, and also weight training to work on the muscles. Past research has shown that these sorts of training can make people feel better, happier and more motivated – even in normal healthy people. It has never been tried for First Episode Psychosis (even though these are the people who may need it most!).

To see if it has worked, we score peoples’ mental health using a psychiatric interview before they start the 10 weeks of training, and then score them again after the 10 weeks to check if they have improved. I also look at peoples’ physical health, fitness, social life and brain functioning, as exercise is known to be able to help with these things too. If proven effective, exercise may eventually become part of NHS treatment programs for first-episode psychosis, and be available to any young person who is in need of treatment, like a new form of therapy! 


Going Further

If you want to know more about first-episode psychosis in general, such as what causes it, what it does, here is a great place to start: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/a_z_mental_health_and_addiction_information/psychosis/first_episode_psychosis_information_guide/Pages/first_episode_psychosis_information_guide.aspx

For more information about my specific experiment, you can find the full details of the clinical trial here: http://www.controlled-trials.com/ISRCTN09150095/

If you’re interested in which physical exercise can improve mental health, this article goes through many different ways in which it may do this:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mental-health-benefits-exercise_n_2956099.html