Engineering: the practical application of science to real world problems

by YPU Admin on March 21, 2014, Comments. Tags: aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, PhD, and Research


My name is Craig Morrison and I am a 2nd year PhD student in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. My research is linked to the nuclear industry, using computers to try and simulate what happens to materials in the extreme environment in a nuclear reactor.

In Depth

I enjoyed STEM subjects throughout school and studied for A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Geography. I considered applying to study Physics at university but was unsure of the jobs on offer after graduation. I was advised that for those who are curious about science and maths but still have an eye for practical problems, maybe stemming from a childhood love of Lego or Meccano, studying engineering can be a good alternative to a pure science at university. So I decided engineering was for me and went to the University of Sheffield to study for a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

For those who don’t know, engineering is the practical application of science to real world problems. Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying; ‘Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been’. Essentially the science taught at school and university explores the world around us, developing equations and theories to explain why things behave the way they do. Engineering takes the principles developed by scientists and uses them to design and create the man-made world we live in.

Engineers are tasked with solving a wide range of problems, often with significant time, resource and financial constraints. New challenges evolve with the world around us ensuring that the learning and self-improvement never stops. How do we supply food, water and clean energy to a global population that is expected to hit 9 billion by 2040? Where will these people live? How do we combat the effects of global warming? These issues make for scary reading, but provide the fuel from which engineers thrive.

Different branches of engineering exist to cope with the different problems encountered in everyday life. The house you live in and the bridges you drive over were designed by civil engineers. The car or train you travel in were designed by a mechanical engineer to get you there quickly and safely whilst using as little fuel as possible. Aerospace engineers create the planes which fly over huge distances to take you go on holiday. And that’s not mentioning electrical/electronic, materials, manufacturing, bio-engineering or the multiple other engineering disciplines fields that have emerged.

In many engineering industries a skills shortage is imminent as large chunks of the workforce approach retirement age ensuring engineering graduates and apprentices are in high demand. Furthermore, the team working, communication and problem solving skills are sought by other industries as well – business, accounting and finance in particular – a reassuring thought for those interested in the subject but unsure as to whether engineering is their preferred long term career choice. 

Going Further

As a general rule, to study an engineering based course at University will require an A level in Maths alongside a science depending on the branch which you wish to study, e.g. Physics will be needed for Mechanical engineering, chemistry for Chemical engineering, biology for Bioengineering.

Make no mistake an engineering degree can be difficult and challenging but in terms of employability and job satisfaction it remains one of the best degrees you can study. There is also a fun side with societies where students can design and build a racing car (formula student), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV society) or experience piloting and aircraft design (Flight Simulator Society). Whether you want to design rollercoasters, become an astronaut or improve our future by solving some of the biggest issues faced by the world today, an engineering degree could be your first step to an exciting, varied and satisfying career.

Find out more about engineering at the University of Manchester here:

You can find out more about engineering in general and the careers on offer here:

You can find out more about student societies in MACE here:


From undergraduate to PhD student

by YPU Admin on March 14, 2014, Comments. Tags: biomedical science, pharmacology, postgraduate, and undergraduate


If someone had asked me at the start of my final year of my undergraduate degree, ‘do you fancy doing a PhD when you finish uni?’ my answer would have been an outright NO! Yet, here I am, now in my second year of my PhD in the role of exercise on cardiovascular disease risk in psoriasis.  So what changed my mind? Well, it was only when I entered my final year of my undergraduate degree that I actually started to seriously consider my career options. My undergraduate degree was in Biomedical Sciences and I wanted to find out what I could do with my degree (aside from the obvious career pathways like Biomedical Scientist or scientific research).

In Depth

So, after hours of trawling the internet, numerous career appointments and countless chats with my academic tutors I had a much clearer idea of what was out there. However, despite all this time and effort I invested into researching potential future careers I still wasn’t 100% sure. Although, I particularly liked the idea of becoming a medical writer because writing is something I like doing and something that I enjoy. Also I had a lot of time for my subject area as I found it interesting and enjoyed learning about various aspects of science.

Another thing which interested me was intellectual property, which was first brought to my attention in one of my pharmacology lectures. I soon learned that I could become a patent attorney. The more I read about this area of work, the more it appealed to me. This career path is an opportunity to merge law and science. Naturally, because I don’t have a background in law (like the vast majority of patent attorneys according to my research) this career requires you to undertake training and sit examinations. This is something which doesn’t really bother me too much (after all I’ve already spent years doing it and a couple more won’t hurt!). Anyway, after reading up on what’s required for this type of career I found that a PhD is ‘preferable.’ Now I know this doesn’t mean a PhD is essential, however, I thought whether I decide to go into medical writing or become a patent attorney, either way a PhD will stand me in good stead.

So that’s when I took the plunge and began searching for a PhD. I had a specific criterion already in mind in terms of what I wanted from a PhD. The things I knew for sure was: a) I wanted to stay at the University of Manchester, b) I wanted a PhD with a studentship so I didn’t have to worry about funds for the next 3 or 4 years and c) I didn’t want a PhD that was solely lab-based (I didn’t mind a bit of lab work but I hated being in the lab for hours on end!). So with all this in mind I started looking at what was on offer and began to pick out projects which captured my interest.

Eventually, I decided to apply for two PhD projects. I realise this doesn’t sound like a lot but the way I saw it was a PhD is a huge commitment and I wanted to be sure that my chosen project was something I was interested in and something I wanted to dedicate my time and effort to. And so for this reason I was very selective in terms of my applications for PhD projects. Something else which really helped me decide on which projects I wanted to submit applications to was going and actually talking to the supervisors about the project and what exactly I would be doing as a PhD student on their project.

So… out of the two applications I submitted I was invited for interview for one of the projects along with two other candidates. The supervisor requested that each candidate put together a presentation covering various topics including: why did we want to do a PhD, why did we want to do a PhD in Manchester and why did we want this specific project. Each candidate was also sent a copy of the research proposal which we were asked to read and comment on in our presentations. We had to say how we would structure our approach/time to the work outlined in the proposal and also comment on how we would perhaps improve the proposal and what other ideas we had.

The interview itself was, as you can imagine, nerve-wracking and very stressful! However, it was a valuable experience. There were five interviewers on the panel, three of which were my potential supervisors. Personally, I found the interview particularly stressful as I was up against two other candidates who both had a Master’s degree along with other research experience, whereas I had just come to the end of my undergraduate degree and was expected to achieve a 2.1.

Anyway, after the stress of my final exams and the PhD interview I found out (just a few days after the interview) that I had been awarded the position on the PhD programme. Naturally, I was over the moon and accepted the place on the programme! Now here I am in my second year of my PhD and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience so far.

Going Further

Find out about studying Biomedical Science at the University of Manchester here.
This blog was originally posted on the University of Manchester careers blog, which can be found here.
You can find more information about careers in Biomedical Science here and here.


The science of small things

by YPU Admin on March 7, 2014, Comments. Tags: chemical engineering, nanoscience, PhD, and Research


Hi, my name is Lauren and I am a second year PhD student at The University of Manchester. I was lucky enough to be selected for the NowNANO DTC programme. A DTC (Doctoral Training Centre) programme is essentially a PhD and the NowNANO DTC is a programme that specialises in Nanoscience. For those that don’t know what Nanoscience is, it is science on a very very small scale – 10-9 m to be exact, that’s 1 million times smaller than a millimetre!

My particular area of research looks at the molecular interactions in organic crystals. Organic crystals are crystals that are made up of carbon atoms. My focus is on hydrogen bonding behaviour in these crystals. One of the main uses of these types of crystals is in Pharmaceutical tablets. The molecular interactions in the crystals are what determine the properties of the crystal and therefore how well the drugs work.

In Depth

In order to get where I am now, I studied Maths, Chemistry and Physics at A level. At the time, my plan was to become an engineer and work on renewable energy. I studied for 4 years to get my master’s degree in “Chemical Engineering with Environmental Technology”. In between my 3rd and 4th year at university, I decided to see how much I enjoyed Chemical Engineering by doing a 3 month placement with the Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. My job was to look at all of the water that was used on site and try to find ways to reduce their water consumption. The project was interesting and very challenging but for me it didn’t seem to fit my personality.

For the degree that I was doing I was required to complete a research project in my 4th year in order to get my masters. As soon as I started this project I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I spent a lot more time on my project than my friends did. I found myself reading about the research in my spare time. I was very fortunate to find a project that I enjoyed so much. My project was more chemistry and physics based rather than engineering and I felt that this suited me better. When it came to the end of the year and everyone else I knew was applying for jobs, I decided to apply for a PhD instead. And the rest, as they say, is history!

The research that I am working on now uses soft X-rays to look at molecular interaction in organic (carbon based) crystals. This has a particular relevance to the pharmaceutical industry as almost half of all pharmaceuticals are administered as tablets. The actual ‘drug’ part of the tablet is almost always an organic crystal. Learning more about these molecules helps the pharmaceutical companies to decide things such as; how much drug should be in the tablet, how quickly it will dissolve and how effectively it will spread through the body.

I like my research, firstly because I simply enjoy finding out new information. Though, I particularly enjoy my research because I feel like I am making a contribution to society and in a small way, helping other people. My research is fairly fundamental, this means that it is all about the pure science. I am a few steps removed from the practical applications of drug delivery. However, the scientists that are working on the drugs need to know about their science, which makes me feel like what I am doing is important, however small my contribution may be.

Going Further

Click here for more information about the course Chemical Engineering with Environmental Technology.

More information on Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science can be found here.

In my spare time I am also a STEM ambassador. STEM is an organisation that aims to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. If you wish to find out more about the various jobs and carers that are available through these subjects then have a look at this site.

If you have been interested in my work then all of the information about my research can be found on my research page.

Other pages you may find interesting that are related to my work include:

1.  I work with X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS). For those of you who want a challenge have a look at how it works, you can find more information here.

2.  What is a drug? Find out here.


Growth hormones and variations

by YPU Admin on February 28, 2014, Comments. Tags: biology, PhD, and Research


I’m Lee Dunham, and I’m currently in the third year of my PhD research in Biomedical Science. After completing my GCSEs (many moons ago!), I went to college to study Biology, Psychology, Sport Science (A-levels) and Maths and Chemistry (AS-levels). At the time I thought I wanted to do Medicine, but changed my mind to continue into research. I got a place studying a straight Biology degree at Cardiff University. Throughout the course, I went on field courses to Tobago, and worked for a leading pharmaceutical company (AstraZeneca) and contributed to a published study. Upon graduating from Cardiff University, I started on my PhD research at the University of Manchester. My work here focusses on understanding how growth hormone, present in all humans, is regulated and how changes may contribute to differences seen between individuals.

In Depth

Why does it matter that we understand the differences? Whilst “variation is the spice of life”, we like these variations to be within a ‘normal limit’. Growth hormone (as the name suggests) controls growth and development in all mammals, and is the main cause for the variation in our heights and sizes. Some people make more of it, and others make less…

Sometimes however, the regulation fails from keeping growth hormone at a ‘normal’ level, and unfortunately this can result in disease. For example, misregulation may cause cancer, acromegaly and growth hormone deficiency. Whilst some of the characteristics of these are noticeable as being much taller or shorter, other more detrimental symptoms are also caused. These include joint pain, limited vision, headaches, increased fat mass, decreased bone density and even death.

I am aiming to identify the ‘normal’ patterns of the growth hormone gene. This gene in humans is unique to any other mammals as it has vital components allowing for stringent control. I look at single cells under a powerful microscope to observe these patterns. To make this possible, I have added a section into the growth hormone gene which makes it glow when it is present. That way, when growth hormone is being made in the cell it brightens up, and then goes dull when production stops. Each blob is a cell in a dish with my modified growth hormone gene in. Measuring the time, frequency and intensity of these events will allow me to identify ‘normal levels’ which can then be compared to different conditions.

Through both my Biology BSc and my PhD, I have learnt so many theoretical and practical skills within the laboratory. I regularly use high-tech microscopes, manipulate genes and apply a number of analytical tests. Working with some of the newest technology in a lab with people from different places and backgrounds to understand something nobody else yet knows is extremely rewarding, and I now have skills which can be transferred to many different research areas and jobs.

Going Further

Found out about studying Biology at the University of Manchester here.

For a link to the medical and human sciences page go here and you can find all the research done at University of Manchester.

And here you can find the research done specifically looking at human development.

For a great video which explains genetics and variation go here.


Chinglish – the influence of English in China?

by YPU Admin on February 27, 2014, Comments. Tags: languages, Research, and undergraduate

Our ‘Undergraduate Research’ section will provide an insight into research conducted at an undergraduate level and feature case studies of undergraduate researchers at the University of Manchester.


Hello! My name is Susie Jones, and I graduated from The University of Manchester in 2013 with a joint honours degree in English Language and Chinese.

The topics I studied in English were very different from those studied in 6th form – there was a greater focus on linguistics (the scientific study of language). Although different, I found it really interesting and decided to focus my studies on language variation in my final year. I was interested in how and why certain groups of people speak differently, whether these differences have changed over time and across space, and whether they have an impact on people’s attitudes towards language.

As for the Chinese side of my course, I started studying it from scratch and my year abroad in China inspired me to find out more about the language and how it works. Although writing a research dissertation wasn’t a compulsory element of my course, I felt it would be a good way to get a deeper understanding of the language I was learning and develop a range of skills.

My research

While I was in China, I noticed that people often used different words for the same thing. Not a particularly strange phenomenon (this occurs frequently in English too), but I found it odd that in Chinese, some of these would sound quite similar to English. For instance, a bus would sometimes be called ‘gong-gong-chee-chur’ but could also be called ‘ba-suh’, which is obviously inspired by the English pronunciation.

There are lots of examples of these two languages ‘borrowing’ from each. Did you know, the saying “long time no see” is actually taken from Chinese? It’s a result of language contact as the world becomes smaller and people have become more geographically mobile.

So I set about putting together a questionnaire to test whether Chinese speakers in China were more likely to use an ‘Englishised’ version of a word (one that sounds similar to English), or an indigenous equivalent (one that is originally made from Chinese sounds).  My supervisor (a specialist in language variation and change) helped me design a questionnaire  to test the words that speakers would use, which included naming pictures, filling in gaps and judging the acceptability of sentences containing ‘Englishised’ words.

The questionnaire was sent to 72 Chinese speakers in China who were of a range of different ages, came from different areas of China and had varying levels of education. This way, I would be able to see whether these three variables would have an effect on the words that they chose.


Before doing the research, I had predicted that a speaker’s age, location and level of education would have an impact on whether they chose a more ‘Englishised’ word or not. However, my results showed that these factors didn’t have much of a bearing on their linguistic choices. Rather, speakers were more sensitive to the deeper linguistic characteristics of the word itself (the number of syllables or location of stress for example). With further research, these types of findings could have a significant impact on the work of translators, dictionary writers and those who work on language policy.

Overall, the influence of English in mainland China has not been as extensive as it has been in other Chinese speaking regions such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, which have been historically more open to the rest of the world. It’s a nice example of how socio-political circumstance can have an impact on the way we speak and demonstrates how language is intrinsically connected with the way the world works. 

Any time you think some other language is strange, remember that yours is just as strange - you're just used to it.
Linguistic Mystic.

Going further

For more information about the English Language and Linguistics courses at the University of Manchester, click here.

For information about languages at the University of Manchester, click here.

Mandarin Chinese isn’t as difficult as you might think! Find out why here.

There are many reasons to study languages - find out why here.