what are your research interests and what does research validity mean and what is descriptive research with example
IN THE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING
AND PHYSICAL SCIENCES
Design, Discover, Deliver
Our ability to be at the forefront of research is built on and shaped by the heritage of
the College with its long-standing and pioneering achievements across the spectrum
of basic and applied science and engineering since 1900. A characteristic of research at
Birmingham are the synergies between theoretical and experimental endeavours, coupled
with large-scale experimental facilities. Our facilities span the main Birmingham campus
and at Ansty in the West Midlands and major collaborative activities in Switzerland
(CERN), and China (Guangzhou, Hefei). This provides a diverse and unique
environment for our scholars and their research groups.
From atoms to astronomy, computers to cars and n Advanced manufacturing – driving the transferring these discoveries to applications
railways to robust extreme environment materials, industry forward by staying head of the has seen some of the major transformations in
our wish is to transform our understanding of global competition through our innovation technology. This requires connectivity between
complex systems to build intellectual talent – n Science frontiers – fundamental fundamental science, engineering and ultimately
expressed in high calibre people – and to breakthroughs in our understanding business and industry. That is what we do at the
improve global well-being and our economy. of the way Nature works College of Engineering and Physical Sciences –
n Resilience, energy and sustainability – and we are striving hard to develop further.
Across the College the breadth of expertise in tackling the challenges of future
discovery science and in bringing innovation to generations now Professor Richard A Williams
societal use through engineering is extensive. We Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of College
actively encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in our Making important discoveries in fundamental
science is both exciting and revolutionises the
research community and business networks to
ensure knowledge exchange. Our research has way we think about the world around us, but
impacted society in many ways. Our portfolio of
capabilities and selected achievements may be
summarised in three key overarching themes:
Welcome from Head of College 2
Map/Diagram of the three research themes 3
Highlights of Advanced Manufacturing (Design) 4
Highlights of Science Frontiers (Discover) 9
Highlights of Resilience, Energy and
Sustainability (Deliver) 14y
Centre for Hydrogen
and Fuel Cell
Pure Mathematics, Chemical Biology
Combinatorics and Drug Discovery
Imaging in Chemistry
Astronomy, Seismology of
stars, and Gravitational Waves
and Metamaterials Technology
Advanced engineering and manufacturing are pivotal to the UK’s
business success, at home and abroad. Birmingham has long
aligned its research programmes with industry and national
priorities – and we now lead the way in key areas.
We are developing engines of the future and A major frontier is the development of artificial
biological materials, such as bone, for use in
designing tomorrow’s railways – from materials
and modelling to power and risk analysis. The surgical substitution. The challenge is to develop
drivers being efficiency, reduced environmental materials that are not only structurally similar but
behave the same as the material they replace.
impact and safety. We are driving advances in
the aerospace sector, including novel materials This ground-breaking research is only possible
and fabrication methods for aero-engines; our because we have the technology and the
know-how coupled with our development of
expertise underpins some of the most advanced
engine designs. cutting-edge techniques for enhanced imaging
of biological systems.
In design and manufacturing of electronic devices,
we are working on radio frequency and microwave We have extensive research in formulation
engineering – to help meet the demand for of soft structured products such as food, fuels
new, internet-based services on small and and products such as washing detergents.
mobile devices and systems for advanced
automotive radar. In all of these, we work alongside global industry
partners such as Jaguar Land Rover, Procter and
Gamble, Rolls Royce and Unilever.
Engines for the future
Advanced Materials Engineering
We are leading UK research in developing advanced resource-
efficient processing techniques for a variety of metals – such as
nickel, titanium and aluminium – to make a range of state-of-the-
art components using revolutionary technology.
3D Printing of Advanced Engineering
Direct Laser Deposition
Components Traditionally, if, say, an expensive turbine engine
More properly known as ‘additive manufacturing’ blade breaks or becomes worn, it is discarded
or ‘selective laser melting’, we are able to ‘print’
and replaced. But we are exploring the use of
complex items, such as an engine component, metal powders to ‘fill’ the worn or broken bits.
in their finished state rather than machining them Again, the benefits include cost-reduction and
from the bulk. Using lasers to melt a metal powder, increasing the product life.
we print the component by adding layer upon
layer of the powder. We are at the heart of the These new approaches to manufacturing
‘third industrial revolution’ – using 3D printing are transformational:
techniques to make components out of metal. n The lead-time, from design to production,
We are the only university in the UK to use a is much shorter than using casting and
forging. It can take just two days to make
variety of metals in this way, especially the laser
and powder based techniques. a geometrically-complex component.
n They are resource-efficient. Nickel, for example,
is very expensive material. Manufacturing by
Net Shape Manufacturing
We are at the forefront of net-shape manufacturing
This technology, used to manufacture large machining, removing metal, results in a lot
technology – making large components from metal powder
components from metal powder to final shape of waste.
to final shape in one step. This is known as Net Shape
n The buy-to-fly ratio is vastly reduced. For
in just one step, is known as ‘net shape’. It works HIPping (Hot Isostatic Pressing) and overcomes the waste
by filling a mould, designed through sophisticated example, with traditional methods, 10 kg in traditional manufacturing.
computer modelling, with powder and then may be required to make a 2 kg component,
whereas with 3D-printing, just a little over 2 kg
applying temperature and pressure so that the
We are pioneering the use of the technique of direct laser
powder holds itself in the shape required – will be required to make the same component.
deposition to repair worn components, such as engine
an engine casing, for example. As with other n They create products to a higher specification
blades, using metal powder, or to build large structure
and dimensional accuracy.
novel engineering technologies, net shape
by free-form laser deposition.
manufacturing is much more efficient than
traditional methods, with buy-to-fly ratio (the Additive manufacturing is one of several novel
We are founding partner of the Manufacturing Technology
techniques we employ to take engineering into
weight ratio between the raw material used for
Centre (MTC). The MTC represents one of the largest
a component and the weight of the component a new era – where industry is able to design for
public sector investments in manufacturing for many
itself) slightly over 1, compared to about 10 for functionality rather than manufacturability –
years and is housed in a 12,000 square metre purpose
bringing new prosperity to the UK. Moreover,
material removal processes: 60 kg of powder
built facility at Ansty Park, Coventry for advanced
will make 56 kg of engine casing. This method this approach minimises manufacturing’s carbon
manufacturing. It is a partnership between some of the
also requires minimal finishing. In traditional footprint through the three Rs – Reusing,
UK’s major global manufacturers and the universities
Recycling and Remanufacturing (repairing) of
manufacturing, machining work can account
of Birmingham, Nottingham and Loughborough. The
for two-thirds of the price of a component. existing products. This is an example of ‘high-value
MTC founder members include internationally renowned
manufacturing’ (HVM), where Birmingham’s
companies such as: Aero Engine Controls, Airbus and Rolls
advanced technical know-how is used to develop
Royce. There are now more than 50 members representing
products and manufacturing processes that can
a broad range of industrial sectors.
bring sustainable growth and prosperity. 6
Imagine a chocolate bar that is low in fat yet tastes just as luxurious
as its full-fat counterpart. Thanks to world-leading research by our
chemical engineers, you may not have to imagine for much longer.
Our scientists have found the solution to making foods healthier
but without compromising their taste and texture.
Working closely with the food industry, the aim is We are designing a material that is structured
Because of our strengths in the design and characterisation
to help reduce food-related diseases like obesity in a way that encapsulates cells and locates them
of microstructured products, and in heat and mass transfer,
in a position where they have a therapeutic effect.
and hypertension by encouraging the population
fluid flow, particle technology and materials engineering
to cut down on sugar, fat and salt. Until now, the The release of the restructured cells is then done
across chemical, biological and physical systems, we
big problem has been that low-fat and low-sugar in a controlled way so as to enhance their benefit.
collaborate with world-class industry, as well as with
varieties of convenience foods simply aren’t
leading-edge engineering and science departments
as flavoursome and therefore not as appealing. This research focuses on taking a population of
nationally and internationally.
What’s more, many such products replace natural cells from a person’s own tissues, encapsulating
them into a gel – which acts as a filler – and
ingredients such as fat and salt with artificial
The School of Chemical Engineering was awarded the
alternatives, thus compromising their ‘healthiness’. injecting it into that person’s body. From there,
Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in recognition
the cells will excrete growth factors, which will
of its pioneering research in micro-structured materials
What we do is to use process science to encourage healing.
and outstanding track record in collaborative research and
understand and manipulate food on the
training with UK and multinational companies involved in
microscale to engineer products that deliver As our knowledge of biological systems improves,
consumer expectation but with controlled energy we are moving from the use of materials as crude
and salt delivery so as to give a dramatic reduction compositional mimics, to designing ones that can
We are the largest group of its type in any UK academic
in the amounts of fat, sugar and salt consumed in interact with specific biological processes
engineering department – we have 30 PhD and engineering
the diet. For example, we have found a way to to enhance tissue formation.
doctoral students working on these projects.
substitute some or most of the fat globules
in foodstuffs such as chocolate, mayonnaise
and margarine with alternative, natural materials
such as water.
So successful is our research that the food
industry may be only two years away from bringing
products that are as healthy as they are indulgent
We are also revolutionising future health care
and medical treatment. We are working to develop
cell therapy treatments for regenerating diseased
or damaged bones, cartilage, ligaments, skin and
even eyes, and to improve the body’s ability to
heal. This might seem a million miles away from
chocolate, but the principles are the same.7
Engines for the future
The engines of today are both powerful and efficient, but the
engines of tomorrow need not only to be powerful and efficient
but significantly greener. Our mechanical engineers are working
with some of the biggest names in industry to develop future fuels
(including biofuels) and new combustion system/after treatment to
reduce the environmental impact of transport. We work closely with
UK industry in engine design and advanced engine technologies,
helping to design the engines and fuels of the future.
Our exceptional engine research and development mode (eg, homogeneous charge compression
labs are second-to-none: Our Future Engines
ignition) include a glass cylinder in which it is
and Fuels Laboratory houses ten engine test bed possible to perform world-leading measurements
facilities for engines, fuels and catalysts and it is of fuel injection and combustion.
here that we carry out extensive collaborative work
with the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Johnson Biodiesel can be manufactured from, for
Matthey and Shell. example, vegetable oil. This is used in blended
fuels, the global consumption of which is about
The main challenge in engine development is 30 billion gallons per year. Our research has
to enhance fuel efficiency and the reduction of helped manufacturers to understand the possible
emissions such as nitrogen oxides and carbon proportion of biodiesel in order to both optimise
monoxide. Changing the way fuel is injected into performance and reduce carbon dioxide and
the cylinder can improve both combustion and other regulated emissions.
performance. Our facilities for new combustion
We are working with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to
improve current and future generation engine technology,
as well as on next generation gasoline direct injection
Using Birmingham research, JLR has been able to improve
the flexibility of its engine technology to accept a wide range
of environmentally-friendly fuels.
With the results of our research, Johnson Matthey has been
able to optimise its environmental catalyst technology. This
is helping to reduce regulated and unregulated pollutant
emissions, thus lessening the environmental impact.
Shell is one of the largest purchasers and distributors
of biofuels in the world. Through Raízen, a joint venture
between Shell and Brazilian firm Cosan to produce ethanol
from Brazilian sugar cane, it produces more than two
billion litres of biofuel annually. We have helped the
company to design fuels that are compatible with
current engine technologies.8
Making cars ever-more exciting to drive while at the same time
improving road safety are two key components for maintaining pole
position in automotive manufacturing. Cutting-edge radar research
at Birmingham over two decades has powered the industry into the
ACC enables a vehicle to automatically adjust
Our communications engineers have been
We were integral to the EU Technical Committee setting
involved in the research and development of its speed, by controlling the throttle and brakes,
the European radio frequency spectrum standard on
‘adaptive cruise control’ (ACC) radar and ‘blind to maintain a safe distance from a target vehicle
automotive radar. We provided radar expertise to the
ahead and other objects nearby.
spot monitoring’ (BSM) from the very beginning.
committee, which included members from Birmingham,
BMW, Daimler Benz, Fiat, Volvo, M/A Com, Siemens
Both are now integral to the Jaguar Land Rover Our engineers have also worked on pedestrian
and GEC Plessy.
and collision-avoidance systems, such as
(JLR) range: ACC radar was introduced by Jaguar
in 1999 and other car manufacturers have also investigating the effects of rain and spray and
We have delivered training programmes in ‘understanding
started incorporating it into their vehicle design. radar interpretation of vehicles, pedestrians,
automotive radar: theory, practice and current development’
Birmingham’s research in this sector continues animals, bicycles and road infrastructure.
to Jaguar Land Rover
to lead the way in the UK.
Our research has helped to improve vehicle efficiency,
capability and road user safety. Optimum vehicle progress
control offers environmental benefits by reducing energy
wastage through inappropriate driving and also lessens
damage to the terrain. 9
Our research has delivered breakthrough discoveries which are
challenging the understanding of the universe, its laws and fundamental
characteristics. We have world-leading research programmes that
reach from the smallest to the largest scales, from quarks to galaxies,
through to challenges of pure mathematics and computing.
We are probing what happened an instant after the We are developing new quantum materials –
Big Bang, have helped discover the Higgs Boson, metamaterials – changing the way materials
respond to light and microwaves and could lead
are leading the quest to find gravitational waves,
and have led the way in developing experiments to the fabrication of human scale invisibility cloaks.
that can ‘see’ inside the sun and other stars. We We are conducting research on human cognition
and robotic systems, leading to a better
are discovering new planets around distant stars,
which are similar to Earth, in the habitable region understanding of both brain function and
known as the Goldilocks Zone. advanced robotics.
Particle Physics and
The possibility of finding other planets on which life might exist, is
coming closer – thanks to research by astronomers at Birmingham.
We listen to the ‘music of the stars’, elsewhere in our galaxy, around
which new planets are being discovered. The characteristic pitch of
the oscillations of the stars reveals their size and composition.
Our scientists are working with the Kepler Mission, Our task is to characterise the host stars
a space observatory launched by NASA to find around which new planets are discovered,
potentially habitable planets like our own, orbiting using a powerful, rapidly-growing field of
stars like our Sun, outside our solar system. astronomy called asteroseismology, which is the
Already it has produced dramatic results. study of the stars by observation of their natural
resonances which manifest as characteristic
Our astronomers are studying the planets’ ‘suns’, oscillations, similar to how resonating musical
because the more information we can gather instruments are detected by our ears.
about the neighbouring star, the more we will
know about the planet and the possibility of life We are leading an international team of scientists,
elsewhere in the universe. which is playing a leading role in this exciting
Our work with the NASA Kepler Mission is enhancing our
understanding of the life-cycles of stars, which will help us
to better understand our own Sun. We can select for study
stars of solar mass and composition that are younger and
older than the Sun – allowing us to study the ‘Sun in time’
and open a window on the past and future of our star. This
will enable us to better understand the potentially damaging
effects on the Earth of solar storms and ‘space weather’.
Our scientists played a major part in the detection of a rocky
planet – smaller than our solar system’s smallest planet,
Mercury – orbiting a solar-type star 80 per cent of the size
and mass of the Sun. The exact dimensions of the star,
and the absolute size of the planet, were determined by
asteroseismologists led by Birmingham.
We are an international collaboration of asteroseismologists
that are studying Sun-like stars, using Kepler, and we are
represented on the Kepler Exoplanet Council. We have
published hundreds of research papers in scientific journals. 11
Particle Physics and Nuclear Physics
The discovery of the Higgs boson which gives mass to fundamental
particles – was one of the biggest discoveries in physics in half a century.
Our pioneering research helped to track it down. The identification of this
tiny particle, predicted by Peter Higgs in 1964, has revolutionised the way
we think about the fundamental mechanisms at work in the universe.
This endeavour is being spearheaded by CERN understand why there is more matter than
We have been involved in the discovery of the quark-gluon
– the Geneva-based European Organization for antimatter in the Universe – after the Big Bang
plasma, which will help us to understand how the universe
there should have been equal amounts of matter
Nuclear Research – and our elementary particle
came to be the way we see it today and also give us an
and nuclear physics groups are involved in as and antimatter, so where did all the antimatter go?
insight into the structure of matter within the cores of
many experiments at the laboratory as any other
All these experiments require human endeavour
group in the UK.
at the cutting-edge – the extremes of energy,
Our research programme is pushing the frontiers of
These – ATLAS, ALICE, LHCb and NA62 – are precision and technology. We are world leaders
instrumentation and radiation detection. The advances we’ve
in the design and construction of state-of-the-art
being conducted at the Large Hadron Collider
made have potential for producing sensors that function in
(LHC), the world’s biggest and highest-energy electronics that are needed to identify the most
high temperature environments, such as aircraft engines.
particle accelerator, which was built by CERN to interesting collisions at the LHC within two-
enable physicists to test the predictions of different millionths of a second.
theories of particle and high-energy physics.
As part of the ATLAS experiment – a collaboration
of nearly 3,000 scientists – our physicists
performed some of the key analysis that resulted
in the discovery of the Higgs boson in ultra-high
energy proton-proton collisions at the LHC.
We are now busy testing our standard model
theory against the Higgs’ properties and looking
for signs of even more exotic physics.
With the ALICE experiment, we are probing the
nature of matter an instant after the Big Bang
which resulted in the creation of the Universe.
This will help us to understand how the Universe
came to be the way we see it today.
Through precise measurements of the lifetimes of
particles containing beauty quarks and antiquarks
at the LHCb experiment we are trying to 12
The Travelling Salesman Problem (TSP) has baffled mathematicians
for more than 50 years, yet two of our professors have ‘half-solved’
it; in the field of Extremal Combinatorics, that is no mean feat.
The question posed by the TSP is: ‘If you have
PJ Kelly: the connection between the two is
We hold two European Research Council Starting
a group of cities at various distances from each not obvious and was, therefore, unexpected.
Grants. So far, only 16 such grants have been awarded
other, what is the shortest possible route a
to mathematicians in the UK, and only seven to
travelling salesman could take so he visited each
In graph theory, the vertices or nodes represent
combinatorialists in Europe.
city only once and returned to where he started?’ cities and the edges between them represent
possible routes the salesman could take.
We have also applied our methods to other classic
What makes the TSP such an intellectual
mathematical problems: for example edge-colourings of
challenge is that the number of solutions is so Our proof spans almost 90 pages () and has
graphs (which can be applied to real-life situations such
vast that there’s no efficient algorithm – it is well also led to the solution of other notoriously
as school timetables and other scheduling problems) and
beyond the capacity of current computers to solve. difficult-to-solve problems.
matching problems (which can be used to decide which
teams of colleagues will work best together).
But as world leaders in our field – we have come Although graphs are an abstract concept, they
closer than anyone has come before. An algorithm can be applied to many real-life situations, such
In Probabilistic Combinatorics, a major new research
was devised to map a route that was in the top as modelling social networks (the vertices of
direction is to study random graph models that capture
half of the list of all possible routes (ranked a graph representing people and the edges
typical features of real-world networks such as the Internet
according to their length) – a vast improvement between them representing mutual acquaintances),
– carried out at Birmingham. One current research focus
over any previous results. as well as networks and structures in biology,
is on random graphs on the hyperbolic plane (this involves
communications, computer science and genetics.
unusual geometries such as those featuring in many of MC
Surprisingly, this breakthrough came via their For example, applying graph theory to the internet
Escher’s pictures). Surprisingly, these graphs turn out
solution of a famous conjecture on Hamilton enables you to see how resilient the network is to
to capture crucial features of such networks.
Cycles in graphs – made by the mathematician attack or component failure.13
Quantum Matter and Metamaterials
Imagine the ability to make everyday objects invisible – even
ourselves. It sounds like a science-fiction scenario, but our quantum
physicists are working to develop an ‘invisibility cloak’ to do just that.
Using matter waves – made by exploiting the
We have developed the first macroscopic example
We have developed new types of materials with
of a material capable of hiding from view a small particle wave duality of an atom – which react
electromagnetic properties that have the potential to
object by bending light waves around it. These to gravity, we are able to detect objects and other
revolutionise the field, with huge translational possibilities.
matter where even 3D sensing technology cannot.
novel materials – known as metamaterials
(materials engineered to have electromagnetic Although still in its developmental stage, we are
We are EU leaders in developing a highly novel gravitometer
properties that may not be found in Nature) – working on gravity sensor technology to
that will be capable of detecting minute changes in gravity,
diffuse light so that even the target’s shadow aid archaeologists and civil engineers.
enhancing our ability to detect anything from new oil
reserves to archaeological treasure.
We have developed this research to be –
To date, only very small objects have been almost literally – ground-breaking. Mapping the
Quantum devices based around the cold atom science
rendered invisible – we have made a paper clip Underworld and Assessing the Underworld – both
allows for precision measurements. We are developing novel
disappear – but we are among the world’s leading multi-million pound research projects – aim to find
compact atomic clocks that surpass current time standards
quantum scientists working towards making ways to locate pipes and cables beneath our
by orders of magnitude and might boost the next generation,
objects as large as human beings appear invisible. streets without the need for excavation.
high-speed communication networks and satellite navigation.
Using the same science, we are also developing
ways to enable biologists to detect and therefore
analyse viruses earlier, and to analogue certain
astrophysics phenomena, such as black holes.
Manipulating matter so that it behaves unnaturally
– but to our benefit – is also done through ‘cold
atom’ science: cooling atomic matter to almost
absolute zero – 0 Kelvin degrees or -273.15°C –
to bring about a change in its behaviour. Close
to absolute zero atomic matter behaves in an
extraordinary way. Quantum matter can either
be fermionic or bosonic, if it is the latter then
at 0 kelvin the collection of atoms behave like
a single superatom. 14
Our research is driving both the technology and thinking required
to solve some of the challenges facing the UK as it seeks to develop
sustainable solutions to the designing of future cites, energy and
transportation. It is the ability to combine the practical with the radical
which has placed Birmingham at the forefront of this endeavour.
We also design sustainable infrastructure
The way we design the cities we inhabit shapes
the way they function and the type of society and systems for cities and develop ‘smart’
they engender. Designing more ‘resilient’ cities, technologies for the design and control of
utilities for the urban environment.
requires thinking in a seamless fashion about
energy, water supply, transport, building design
and construction – we are leading the way in both Our work on artificial intelligence and robotic
systems is helping design systems of the future
by developing the thinking and providing advice
to local government. which will enhance the potential in everything from
Chemistry for Health
medical surgery to manufacturing; we are helping
and Sustainability improve the way robots see and understand their
Our researchers are meeting these considerable
challenges in several ways. We are the UK’s world and ours.
national centre for hydrogen research into the
Mapping the Underworld
The way we use technology in the future
generation, storage and use of this energy
source, as well as fuel cell-enabled vehicles. will be different to today.
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
We are developing the UK’s first national centre
for Cryogenic Energy Storage and related thermal
Robotics and Human
Chemistry for Health and Sustainability
Our leading research in chemistry focuses on health, energy
and sustainability, mapping squarely onto pressing national
and global issues.
By working at the interface of several disciplines, new understanding in diverse areas ranging
The Analytical Facility in the School of Chemistry brings
as well as being strong in fundamental areas of
from sperm movement and modelling of force
Mass Spectrometry, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
theoretical and experimental Chemistry, research generation by flagella to adhesion of platelets
Spectroscopy, Chromatography, Elemental Analysis and
in the School of Chemistry is creating real societal and leukocytes to the walls of vessels, vital for
X-Ray Diffraction/Fluorescence together under one section
impact. The Chemistry-Life Science and Chemistry-
understanding thrombosis and inflammation.
to provide the very highest quality of data analysis. With our
Medicine cross-overs exploit biointerfaces,
excellent facilities and high level of expertise, we can offer
bioimaging and biosensors, for example facilitating Materials Chemistry and Energy
our analytical services to other Schools across the University
drug design. In collaboration with Chemical and Materials chemistry covers subjects from ceramics
and external commercial organisations.
Materials Engineering, Materials Chemistry is to nanomaterials, biomaterials and organic solids.
helping develop fuel cells, which can efficiently Our research underpins a range of industrially
The Centre for Physical Sciences of Imaging in the
convert chemical energy from a fuel into electricity important areas, with a major focus on new
Biomedical Sciences (PSIBS) was set up through a
through chemical reactions. Research in these materials for energy technologies. Efficient energy
prestigious EPSRC award to facilitate the training of
areas is underpinned by computational studies. storage and production is a grand challenge
high-quality engineering and physical sciences graduate
facing our society, and meeting this challenge
students in a multi-disciplinary environment at the Life
Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery requires new directions to achieve the step
Sciences Interface. The focus of PSIBS research is on the
Our researchers are exploiting the power of change in performance to make the necessary
development of imaging techniques and the computational
catalysis and synthesis to generate new molecules advances. Our research is targeting the next
analysis of image data to enable and support future
and materials, which are being used to probe the generation of materials for hydrogen storage,
breakthroughs in biology and biomedicine.
function and behaviour of biological systems, fuel cell, battery, solar cell, and nuclear industries.
source new drug molecules and generate drug This research is underpinned by fundamental
delivery systems, such as nanoparticles whose experimental and computer modelling studies
application in drug delivery is set to spread into the role that the chemical structure plays
rapidly. With a large, well-established and vibrant in dictating the underlying properties of materials,
research base in the life sciences and medicine leading to strategies for the rational design of
at Birmingham, the possibility for translating new materials with improved properties.
fundamental chemistry into therapeutic application
is very real; diseases currently being targeted
include various cancers, TB and irritable bowel
syndrome, together with infection, resistance
to antibiotics and vaccine development.
Imaging in Chemistry and Biomedicine
Our research is developing the chemical tools
and materials required to image biological
systems, and in so doing, provide new insights
into how they function at hitherto unprecedented
resolution. It draws together synthetic and
biological chemists interested in molecular probe
design and physical and computational chemists
developing instrumental approaches to imaging.
New fluorescent, Magnetic Resonance Imaging
and molecular probes are being developed for
imaging blood flow, labelling and tracking cells,
and visualising and quantifying receptors to guide
therapeutic treatment. This research is leading to 16
Across the globe and throughout
history, cities have been the
centres of commerce, cultural
evolution and innovation. People
in cities have tended to be more
productive, wealthier, better
educated and also more resource
intensive. Our researchers are
helping think about how to
design the cities of the future.
With populations rising, how do we plan, design ambitious carbon reduction targets which
and manage cities that can cope with increasing
will be tested in three UK cities.
pressure on resources while meeting carbon
and climate challenge needs? Will our investments With engineering solutions comes the challenge
in cities and infrastructure today still be resilient
of implementation. We are collaborating with
in a changing future? Can we design for long-term the Universities of Newcastle and Leeds to
sustainability unaware of future technologies? establish the i-build centre. The centre will
How do we re-engineer cities to reduce the support the development of our understanding
carbon footprint by 80% whilst retaining on what new business models are needed to
societal wellbeing? develop our national systems of infrastructure
networks (eg, energy, water, transport, waste).
Academics at the University of Birmingham are These systems support services such as
trying to tackle the needs of future generations healthcare, education, emergency response
today. These interdisciplinary challenges require and thereby ensure our social, economic and
collaborative solutions and consequently the environmental wellbeing.
University of Birmingham is providing leadership
by bringing together a team of 35 specialists from Continued delivery of our civil infrastructure,
the Universities of Southampton, Lancaster, UCL particularly given current financial constraints, will
and Birmingham. require innovative and integrated thinking across
engineering, economic and social sciences.
‘Liveable Cities’ is an ambitious national programme
of research to develop a method of designing and
The i-BUILD centre will deliver these advances through
engineering low carbon, resource secure, wellbeing
development of a new generation of value analysis tools,
maximised UK cities. The team are developing a
interdependency models and multi-scale implementation
unique City Analysis Framework that will measure
plans. These methods will be tested on integrative case
how cities operate and perform in terms of their
studies that are co-created with an extensive stakeholder
people, environment and governance, taking
group, to provide demonstrations of new methods that will
account of wellbeing and resource security.
enable a revolution in the business of infrastructure delivery
The aim is to develop realistic and radical
in the UK.
engineering solutions for achieving the UK’s 17
Mapping the Underworld
To engineers, underground
Part of our long-standing research into civil
The cutting-edge work has combined a range
infrastructures is a ground-breaking research of technologies – ground penetrating radar,
pipes represent buried treasure
project, aimed at finding ways to allow this acoustics and low-frequency active and passive
and beneath our feet lies a
important work to be done without the need to
electromagnetic field approaches – and intelligent
veritable trove – a vast network
dig holes and trenches. Together with several data fusion with the aim of achieving a 100 per
other leading UK universities, as well as the British cent location success rate without disturbing
of pipes and cables on which we
Geological Survey, the multi-disciplinary team the ground.
depend for our utility services.
is developing the means to locate, map in 3D
To install more, or find and repair and record – using a single shared multi-sensor Our research in this area is evolving and paving
platform – the position of all buried pipes and the way for exploration into other project areas
existing ones, about four million
cables without having to resort to excavation. including an innovative ‘body scanner for the
holes are dug into the UK road
streets’. This uses the same multi-sensor, non-
invasive approach to assess the condition of
network each year, resulting in
the buried infrastructure, as well as the ground
traffic disruption, high costs and
in which it is buried and the roads that overlie it.
wasted man hours.
A successful feasibility study for Mapping the Underworld
paved the way for a rigorous and detailed programme,
termed the Mapping the Underworld Location Project, which
was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences
Research Council (EPSRC), along with in-kind funding from
34 formal practitioner partners.
Our researchers successfully come together with
practitioners to understand the needs of industry and
develop a facility that has far-reaching implications for
industry standards and safety.
Being able to map the vast network of buried utility pipes
and cables without digging holes in the ground is faster, less
disruptive, safer and more cost-effective. It will also allow
engineers to predict how the ground, in its present, possibly
altered condition will react if a trench is dug at a particular
point in a particular road.18
The UK rail industry has a clear vision for transforming the railways
To limit disruption to services when one train is running
in the coming decades and we are at the heart of that transformation.
late, we have developed automatic route-setting for areas of
high traffic density and a method for dynamic rescheduling
As a world-leading centre, many of the vital research requirements
following service disruption of main-line railway operations.
contained in the latest UK Rail Technical Strategy are being carried out
in our laboratories – and then transferred to railways across the globe.
We have designed the ‘single train simulator’ to generate a
power-versus-time profile for an electric train on a particular
The vision is to initiate a step change in interruptions due to product failure or extreme
journey. This is now being used around the world and can
performance to satisfy existing rail customers weather conditions. We combine analysis,
advise drivers on how best to drive trains on specific routes
simulation and measurement to find ways to
and attract new passenger and freight business.
in order to conserve energy. For diesel trains, simulations we
To do this, we are helping the industry to improve counter these difficulties in the long-term.
have carried out for the Department for Transport show that
its performance by eradicating perennial problems,
up to 20 per cent of energy can be saved through the use of
As well as solving existing problems, we work with
including track failures, cutting costs and hybrid braking systems.
becoming more resilient and energy-efficient. organisations around the world, including in the US,
China and Japan, to develop new train and railway
We work on winter preparation with Network Rail to find
system designs, through research, consultancy
Bringing together a multi-disciplinary team
effective ways to overcome problems caused by ice and
from across the University – along with other and professional development. Several universities
snow, such as developing chemical products. We have
universities and partners in national and conduct railway research, but we are the only one
devised a computerised in-service third rail condition
international industry – our focus is to address in the UK that covers the entire engineering
monitoring system to measure the forces and movements
fundamental railway engineering problems. spectrum, using pioneering technologies to find
of the third rail, which is now being tested on a Southern
These range from line-side signalling and safety solutions to obstacles in the labs and on trains
to frequent unplanned maintenance and service and rail networks around the world.
We have devised a ‘robot train’ that travels round the track
spotting faults, generating a map which details the precise
location of the problems. This is highly effective and hugely
cost-effective because it saves on manpower and identifies
faults before they become failures.
Our innovative approach to research includes a ‘spinning
rail’, measuring about 4.5 metres in diameter and capable
of notching up a speed of 80 km/h, which equates to two
laps per second. Combining many different technologies,
this enables us to collect a raft of data very quickly in terms
of novel fault detection, such as cracks in rails at high
speed. Because the temperature in the lab can go to as low
as -58°C, it helps us with extreme weather analysis and
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
Quieter, cleaner, zippier and cheaper to run, hydrogen-fuelled cars as
The centre is home to the UK’s first public hydrogen filling
station and there are now several others around the country
for example developed here at Birmingham are set to revolutionise the
– which is crucial for the commercial success of fuel cell
motor industry. And it’s not only cars – we are also developing fuel
cars. Our hydrogen-powered house, a few miles from the
cell systems for trains, planes, ships and rail buses. In fact, we are the
centre, uses a hydrogen fuel cell Combined Heat and
only UK research centre looking at all aspects of how hydrogen can
be harnessed to create a greener future.
The centre was awarded a grant to create and run a doctoral
training centre in hydrogen, fuel cells and their applications
Hydrogen cars cut carbon emissions through
The internationally acclaimed centre is also in 2008, the first of its kind in the UK; the centre is currently
the use of fuel cell technology which converts working on the design and production of fuel running in its fifth year and is currently looking at extending
hydrogen’s chemical energy into electricity cell equipment various mobile and portable operations to 2022.
through a chemical reaction. They only emit
applications – replacing batteries.
water into the atmosphere and can already
A hydrogen-powered canal boat has been built on campus,
be competitive to petrol or diesel models. We manufacture our own fuel cells and test and
powered by a combination of a metal hydride solid-state
optimise them in our laboratories. Our five-strong
hydrogen store, a proton exchange membrane fuel cell, a
Replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy fleet of hydrogen cars has gone through a series
lead acid battery stack and an NdFeB permanent magnet
sources is vitally important if we are to cut carbon of improvements and the next generation will soon
emissions. But powering vehicles – as well as be trialled on the streets of Birmingham.
domestic heating and lighting systems and
electrical devices – with the likes of hydrogen and
methanol will become a reality only if they can be
proven to be reliable, robust and cost-effective.
And that is what we are doing here at the centre:
from basic research on fuel cells to more complex
work on the integration of green energy systems
into existing transport vehicles, we are road
testing the sustainable production, storage and
commercial application of hydrogen and other
green energy sources.20
One of the greatest challenges the UK faces revolves around energy.
Through collaborations with the Universities of Nottingham
and Loughborough, we established the Midlands Energy
The drive towards decarbonisation – reducing greenhouse gas
Consortium (MEC), which hosts the UK Energy Technologies
emissions – requires changing the way we produce electricity. It
Institute. The wealth of complementary expertise within the
MEC has resulted in it leading three energy-related national
also means electrification of transport and heat. In the near future
centres for doctoral training, as well as hosting the Higher
electricity production using coal will become uneconomic, a fuel
Education Funding Council for England-funded Midlands
which provides about 40% of the current electricity production.
Energy Graduate School. This aims to broaden the wider
energy knowledge of our research-led and taught
The government strategy is to replace some of this by renewable
postgraduates to help meet the growing demand in the UK
sources, for example wind power, and new nuclear power stations.
for more highly-trained low carbon technologies researchers.
expertise and capacity. We are also making
One of the challenges of sources such as wind Our Policy Commission, chaired by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath,
is what to do when the wind does not blow. The significant investments in the area of nuclear recently presented a report on nuclear power, which
other problem is what to do when the wind is engineering, waste management and advocated a ‘road map’ to stall the ‘sense of drift’ in UK
decommissioning. energy policy. It called for public consultation, greater
blowing and providing more electricity than
cooperation between government and industry and
required. Currently the surplus is dumped. Clearly
government-led training and education to ensure a suitably
the solution to the latter is to find ways of storing In energy storage we are working to develop new
skilled workforce, to meet challenges such as the threat of
approaches which could provide technological
the excess to be used at times of low production.
an energy crisis and climate change.
Currently energy storage is limited to sources solutions to the intermittency of wind. We are
such as hydroelectric plants – of which there helping develop cryogenic energy storage,
are few. Other approaches are urgently required. where electricity is used to liquefy nitrogen gas Together with Nottingham, we have established
(essentially air) – this is where energy is stored. an active and growing research and education presence
Birmingham is making important contributions The energy is then released by allowing the liquid in Brazil, creating collaborations to develop energy-
related technologies such as next-generation quantum
to both nuclear energy and energy storage. nitrogen to boil and turn into gas, expanding
sensors for oil discovery and well-management and
dramatically. This expansion may be used to
material performance characterisation for deep oil
For half a century, we have been at the vanguard drive a turbine, thus generating electricity.
of the UK’s nuclear research and education.
Our work has been fundamental to the country’s Our research extends to areas such as bio fuels,
retention of its nuclear industry and we have led powertrain systems and novel energy carriers, as
We are a partner in the Centre for Low Carbon Futures
the education of nuclear engineers and scientists. well as more energy-efficient manufacturing. The (CLCF), a joint project with the Universities of Leeds,
energy challenge is global. Understanding the Sheffield, Hull and York. This reflects our focus on challenges
We have provided capital and infrastructure in issues and finding solutions is at the heart of our related to energy storage, storing wrong-time energy from
renewable generation and balancing the grid when required.
order to expand further the University’s nuclear research and education here at the University.
We have provided leadership in understanding the pathways
for energy storage in the UK and are supporting the creation
of a CLCF-China Centre for energy storage technology
development and integration.
As a civic university, we also look to have an impact closer to
home: Collaborating with the University of Leeds and funded
by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council,
we have carried out a mini-Stern review of Birmingham and
the wider region, to support the City in its vision to reduce its
carbon footprint by 60 per cent by 2027.