Tackling the Climate Crisis with Energy Transitions

Our third year Aerospace Engineering student Kieran Tait recently returned from a transformative journey through Western Canada, representing the University at the Energy Transitions summer school at the University of Alberta. A timely topic following the recent declaration of climate emergency here at the university. Over to Kieran to tell us about his time in Alberta…

Kieran underneath a glacier in Lake Louise, Banff National Park.

Throughout the two weeks, we endured a 40-hour lecture series, in which world-leading industry experts and researchers presented to us the current state of energy, the outlook for the future and an insight into different types of energy systems and their relative merits. This was superbly rounded off with insightful field trips including a tour around a wind farm and a hydroelectric dam, which really helped to contextualise the lectures.

The course was coordinated by the Worldwide Universities network, in which 21 representatives from 13 universities worldwide came together to study the practicalities of decarbonising society. The network brought a diversity of cultures and study areas together, which really shed light on the interconnectedness of the energy crisis and the need for mass mobilisation of society to focus minds on the solutions to the single biggest existential crisis humanity has ever faced. Climate breakdown.

The impending breakdown of our climate is an issue faced by every living being on Earth: no matter your nationality, race, gender, beliefs or background, the impacts of a warming world will completely transform your standard of living in the coming decades unless drastic steps are taken in the next 18 months to transition away from our current overconsuming, unsustainable way of life.

If we fail to meet this objective, we can expect unprecedented weather events, resulting in scarcity of basic human resources such as land, food and water, mass migration in the hundreds of millions and potentially the collapse of civilisation as we know it. Worse still, we can expect all of this as early as 2050 if action is not taken immediately. The seemingly impossible task imposed on our current generation is unparalleled in scale and complexity. It will require a collaboration among all disciplines and every nation on earth to achieve the sort of far reaching and functional solutions required to give us the best chance of limiting the warming trajectory preventing us from passing the point of no return.

Visiting the TransAlta wind farm in Pincher Creek, known as the Wind Capital of Canada.

The course in Energy Transitions provided me with the fundamental knowledge required to propose a logical working plan to phase out the current destructive energy policy and replace it with a more sustainable alternative. This included an overview of current climate science and projections for the future global energy mix, followed by an insight into a variety of energy production methods, including traditional fossil based systems such as coal, oil and gas and renewable types such as wind, solar, hydro, marine, geothermal, nuclear, biomass and hydrogen fuel cells.

The science behind each technology was explained thoroughly and the social, environmental and political implications associated with each type were also discussed. Also carbon sequestration methods such as Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage and land reclamation were explained to us in great depth, as it is clear that we need to not only reduce emissions to zero, but also begin to remove emissions that already exist in the atmosphere if we are to maximise our chances of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Alongside lectures, we also got the chance to go to Pincher Creek, a town in southern Alberta which is home to a large number of wind farm projects, making use of the region’s windy climate. We got the chance to visit a wind farm and go inside a turbine and we were also shown around a hydroelectric dam, bringing to life the concepts studied in lectures. Further to this we visited Waterton Lakes national park to experience some of the natural beauty Canada has to offer.

The group outside the house of the University’s founder Alexander Rutherford, before a ceremonial dinner.

When we returned, it was back to work as we all were tasked with presenting to the rest of the group, a proposal for energy transition solutions throughout different areas of the world. My team and I were given the job of proposing an EU wide energy transition plan. A timely subject following the newly anointed European Commissioner’s calls for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. This task involved reviewing current policy and future goals, developing a sustainable infrastructure plan which would sufficiently meet increasing demand and discussing the issues associated with this transition.

Working with students from Spain, Ghana and Brazil led to some contrasting opinions and views on various subject matters, however the overwhelming consensus was that the transition had to phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible, acknowledging the need to sacrifice living standards in order to allow this rapid transition to happen. It is reassuring to know that despite our cultural differences, we all share the same view that action must be taken immediately, and we must undergo a process of degrowth to cut further emissions and keep temperature rises to a minimum to avert catastrophic climate change.

All in all, this course excelled at bringing like-minded inquisitive individuals together from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds to discuss the most pressing technological, political and ethical challenge humanity has ever faced. It’s admittedly a very frightening time to be a young person, but its undeniable that the times ahead present humanity with a chance to reach a new age in technological and cognitive ability and will allow for multi-national cooperation like the world has never seen before. I would like to thank the Worldwide Universities Network, the University of Alberta and everybody involved for making this incredible experience a possibility!

It’s fantastic to hear Kieran’s passion and enthusiasm for combating the climate crisis we are facing through engineering and renewable energy solutions. This is something that the University is highly committed to and this year world-leading renewable energy expert Andrew Garrard will be joining the Faculty as a visiting professor to enhance our teaching of sustainable energy not only to our engineering undergraduates but to students across the University. 

Upcoming Events

  • Climate Emergency Lecture, 27 September Kieran will be delivering a talk at the Climate Emergency Lecture on decarbonising the aviation industry through electric aircraft and the use of alternative fuels. See event details here.

  • Dr Andrew Garrard Inaugural Lecture, 3 October Andrew has unrivalled technical and business experience in the sustainable energy sector. His lecture will explore the political means adopted to achieve the recent dramatic global growth in renewables and the engineering challenges, technical and political, which face the next generation of engineers. Get your free ticket here.

Fitter, happier… the rise of social robots

Socially Assistive Robots can provide motivation and guidance for those in need of a companion – Katie Winkle, Bristol Robotics Lab PhD student, explains ways that this is already happening

On 4 August this year, the maverick French inventor Franky Zapata crossed the Channel on a jet-powered hoverboard, with the 21-mile journey taking him just over 23 minutes. Clearly a remarkable achievement, but also a very public prompt to all those working in labs on the cool tech of the future – as envisioned by the sci-fi shows of the 50s – that they need to up their game. Yes, the white-coated technicians responsible for jetpacks, flying cars and robot housekeepers – we are talking about you. Teasing aside, Katie Winkle, a PhD student currently undertaking research at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, specialises in the field of Socially Assistive Robotics (SAR) and is certain that her area of study isn’t an unrealisable sci-fi pipe dream.

“I don’t think the use of robots as social companions and helpers is that far away, actually,” she says confidently. “Right now, I could program a robot for a specific use case for a school or a hospital. The real difficulty is in scaling that up in a way that still works for lots of different people and applications. That’s why we are researching it, but it is doable. I’m optimistic.”

Socially Assistive Robotics is a relatively new area of robotics that focuses on assisting users through social rather than physical interaction. So while there are physical robots that have been designed to help with ostensibly manual tasks as varied as assembling cars or even picking strawberries, a Socially Assistive Robot is subtler than that.

‘Pepper’ robot demonstrates arm exercises to a patient

They’re not going to help you out of bed by lifting you, but they might tell you to get out of bed. Or they might remind you to take your medicine.

They can support a trained practitioner, such as a teacher, to provide guidance and motivation to a person – in doing so, they attempt to give the correct cognitive cues to encourage development, learning, or therapy.

As Katie explains: “The distinction is that these robots aren’t physical, they are social. They’re not going to help you out of bed by lifting you, but they might tell you to get out of bed. Or they might remind you to take your medicine. They could even help to combat the issue of loneliness. The key is that the usefulness comes from the social interaction, such as conversation and companionship, rather than a physical act.”

Pet rescue

Another key definition is that a Socially Assistive Robot is not simply for entertainment and they should perform a useful process. But what are the main fields that these robotic companions could help and what are the tangible examples?

Robots have been introduced into nursing homes, where dementia patients have been given robotic pets to help with wellbeing. There’s certainly less mess than with a real dog.

“There are many, but the two areas I always mention first are health and education,” says Katie. “The applications we are starting to see linked to mental health are generally based around loneliness and dementia care. Robots have been introduced into nursing homes, where dementia patients have been given robotic pets to help with wellbeing. There’s certainly less mess than with a real dog.”

Another example is the use of robots in autism therapy. For children who have autism or social anxiety, robots can provide a safe social companion, ‘someone’ they can practice social interaction with. Autistic children respond well in these circumstances. In these cases, the robots are being essentially used to help them with their social skills and that has a very real application of putting them back into human-human interaction.

Katie Winkle with a Nao robot

“All these robots are helping where you need a social presence and there isn’t a human available,” explains Katie. “So, in between therapy visits or gym sessions, there is a robot there to provide the motivation you don’t have.

“As a proposal for future research here at the Lab, I would love to take a robot into Bristol Childrens’ Hospital and use it as a companion for children who are isolated there long-term.”

The use of Socially Assistive Robots in education is essentially the same thing again: helping children who perhaps need extra attention, or children in group sizes that are too big. The robot can perform small group work.

“It’s anywhere where you’d like to have an intelligent social presence, but you don’t. They are all cases where social influence is important,” adds Katie.

Personality issues

It’s important to Katie that her work at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory must at all times consider the end-user, the human who is being assisted by the robot. Just as you might not get along with your teacher or clash with the personality of another, is there any guarantee you’ll get on with your robot?

“The personality type of the robot needs to suit the personality of the person it is helping.”

“When we talk about robot personalities and robot emotions,” explains Katie, “what we are really saying is how well can we program a robot to look like it has those. This means we need to learn about human behaviour and then hook it into a robot. If someone is an extrovert, they’ll talk a lot, move hands about… we can model many of those things from psychology and put it on a robot. The personality type of the robot needs to suit the personality of the person it is helping.”

Metal motivators

“I’m working on a study right now where I’ve got a robot set up in the gym over on campus. The idea is to help people with the Couch To 5k running programme over a nine-week programme, with the robot assisting three times a week. To begin with, the robot is being controlled with the fitness instructor and over time, the robot will learn how to give encouragements at the right time.

“The robot will be giving the runners challenges. Some will respond to direct encouragement – ‘Come on, you can do it! Push a bit harder!’, while with others, it will be more sympathetic, because that’s what they need. Personalisation of robot interaction is a big thing.”

Katie’s Couch To 5k study is an easy-to-understand, tangible concept that brings the near-endless possibilities of Socially Assistive Robots to life. But are there any areas where they won’t be able to help?

We’ll leave the final word to Katie: “I’ve seen work investigating the effectiveness of a ‘marriage counsellor’ robot – it was a talking head in a wig that was supposed to facilitate conversation in couples therapy. Even I’m not sure about that one just yet, it’s a bit of a stretch.”

Academic profile

Name: Katie Winkle (MEng)
Title: PhD Student at Bristol Robotics Laboratory
Studies:
MEng Mechanical Engineering
PhD Robotics and Autonomous Systems

Katie’s story:
“Growing up, I was interested in cars, in how machines work, stuff we can build using science in an applied way. My dad was a car mechanic and he encouraged my curiosity.

“My Undergraduate Degree was Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol. I was all set to go into the automotive industry and wasn’t at all thinking about robotics. Then we had a final-year lecturing unit on the subject and it completely captured my imagination.

“I originally thought I’d work with very physical assistive robots, like those that help you walk. But as I got here, I found I was much more drawn to social interaction. I found it much more interesting. I was amazed that I could put a social robot in front of somebody right now and how I could make that useful. I find the underlying psychology so fascinating and that’s why I’m where I ended up now.”

Our high-flying engineering students

Our amazing Aerospace Engineering students have been taking to the skies during their work with Gravity Industries.

PhD students Abhishek Gautam and Lewis Munshi, and five undergraduate students from the Aerospace department have had the amazing opportunity to work on flight dynamics, wing design and developing a jet suit exoskeleton for Gravity Industries. Truly putting engineering theory into practice.

The new race for space: the next 50 years

20 July 2019 marks 50 years since man walked on the moon. But what about the next 50? We spoke to Professor Lucy Berthoud about space tourism, life on Mars and her enduring fascination with space exploration.

It’s 50 years since US astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first ‘small step’ on the moon, and as he poignantly stated at the time, the Apollo 11 Moon landing was unquestionably a giant leap for mankind. Half a century on as a spacefaring species, government-funded programs have seen us inhabit a space station, master low-Earth orbit and make incredible strides in the development of satellite technology. But, in terms of the advancement of space exploration, what will the next 50 years bring us? What will be happening in the skies above us in 2069?

Space holiday

Bristol University’s Professor Lucy Berthoud, a lecturer within the Faculty of Engineering who teaches the space aspects of the Aerospace Engineering degree, believes it could be a great deal.

“Hopefully, in a few years, people will be travelling in low earth orbit just as frequently as they travel now on commercial aircraft.”

Musk’s commercial SpaceX ‘Crew Dragon’ spacesuit and capsule

“In the short term, we will see the establishment of space tourism in low earth orbit and if they can manage the safety aspects, hopefully, in a few year’s time, people will be travelling in low earth orbit just as frequently as they travel now on commercial aircraft.” Space tourism is space travel for recreational purposes – and the possibilities, including orbital, suborbital and lunar, are seemingly endless. It is no wonder, then, that it is an area of great interest to a new breed of space entrepreneur, with dot.com billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos investing heavily.

Another field where the technology is currently evolving before our eyes is in the development of reusable rockets. Indeed, space companies are ploughing millions into this area with the promise of huge rewards. The prospect of sending rockets into space and then bringing them back to Earth is a tantalising one. As Professor Berthoud attests: “Being able to recover rockets is a necessity in terms of making space tourism financially viable.” At the moment, sending a rocket to the International Space Station costs in the region of £48 million and each rocket can only be used once. Bezos, founder of spaceflight company Blue Origin, famously compared this to using a Boeing 747 to fly across the country once and then throwing the plane away. He has a point.

Galactic gas stations

You would think that predicting long-term developments in space technology is a much more difficult prospect, but this doesn’t faze Professor Berthoud one bit. “There’s a path you have to follow for space exploration. It’s an obvious progression, we’re nothing if not logical in my industry!”

Astronaut Raja Chari tests out deep-space habitat prototype

The first mid to long-term development she expects to see is an inhabited base on the Moon. “There is debate as to whether it should be the Moon or Mars,” she states. “But it seems to me that the Moon would be a strong progression. It’s much closer, comparatively simpler to resupply and if things did go wrong, it’s easier to get people back. Mars is a much higher risk.” Professor Berthoud’s comments link closely to the Deep Space Gateway, a proposed NASA programme that would bring astronauts to the moon to operate a cis-lunar space station. The concept has generated a wealth of research since 2017, especially because NASA’s stated goal, under the current Trump administration, is to return to the moon before going to Mars.

According to Professor Berthoud, other possibilities include the mining of the asteroids (“That has to be done”), the establishment of fuel depots in space – the so-called ‘galactic gas stations’ – as well as the research and exploration of exoplanets, the bodies beyond our own solar system.

“In terms of the next 50 years, discovering life remains the biggest milestone of them all.”

Primarily, she believes that looking for life on other planets remains the ultimate goal. “It’s clearly challenging and deeply difficult to establish whether there is life. For instance, recent research indicates that there is an underwater lake under the ice near the south pole of Mars, which could be a suitable place for life to develop. Mars is fascinating. In terms of the next 50 years, discovering life remains the biggest milestone of them all.”

Space, Inc.

The sustained activity and increasing investment in the fantastic potential of space from both government agencies and Silicon Valley billionaires such as Musk and Bezos is welcome. The growth in the ‘everyday’ applications of space means that a lot more people can now readily see the benefits of space.

Want to study Aerospace Engineering?

“I’ve seen a real surge of interest from students,” says Professor Berthoud. “Whereas previously somewhere in the region of 10 per cent of the aerospace engineering students would be interested in space, in the last few years, it has really jumped. These days, in the region of half the class would like to work on space projects if they can.”

“The space industry is no longer deemed to be a space-agency-dominated world, but rather an exciting commercial industry.”

But why the surge of interest? “Students are regarding space much more like an industry. Even some of my entrepreneurial students who wouldn’t have typically particularly leaned towards space are now doing so because it is no longer deemed to be a space-agency-dominated world, but rather an exciting commercial industry.”

Indeed, these are exciting times at the University of Bristol in terms of space research, with the opening of a new state-of-the-art satellite laboratory and ground station. As Professor Berthoud explains: “The lab enables students to work on University of Bristol space missions with the design and testing of our own satellites. The ground station can track satellites in orbit, and, in theory, we will be able to talk to the astronauts on the International Space Station.”

Lucy in the sky

Lucy living out her childhood fantasies

This shift in perception of space as a commercial opportunity as opposed to the impossible stuff of dreams is something Professor Berthoud has observed closely over her career in the space industry. But what was the initial inspiration behind her fascination with space?

“When I was a kid, I really loved science fiction and so I decided I wanted to be an astronaut at the age of 11! The idea of working in space and on another planet seemed to be too good to be true. I was also fascinated by how things work and so that led me to choose engineering as a career. I really like the exploration part of space, because it appealed to the adventurous side of me.”

Now, as an inspiration to her own engineering students, Lucy hopes they will help develop the technologies, vehicles and infrastructure needed to power the next 50 years of space exploration.

 

Academic profile

Name: Dr Lucy Berthoud MEng (Bristol) PhD (Toulouse)
Title: Professor of Space Engineering
Courses: MEng Aerospace Engineering

Background: Professor Berthoud has worked for 25 years in Spacecraft research and in industry. She started out with a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bristol, then went to Toulouse where she studied for a PhD in Space Physics at Sup’Aero/ONERA (French National Research Organisation). She then did post-doctoral fellowships at the European Space Agency and NASA Johnson Space Centre. In 2009, Dr Berthoud started teaching at the University of Bristol and is now a Professor of Space Systems Engineering in the Aerospace Engineering department.

Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day

Sunday 23rd June is International Women in Engineering Day – we are proud to have so many amazing women working and studying here, in such a wide variety of disciplines and roles. Here are just a few…

Professor Lucy Berthoud – Professor of Space Engineering

I teach SpaProfessor Lucy Berthoudcecraft Systems Engineering in the Aerospace Engineering department and I also work in industry at Thales Alenia Space UK -a spacecraft design company. In industry I work on satellite design for future science missions and at the University of Bristol I work with students to help them to design and build their own satellites.

Read more about Lucy’s work

Kalyani Rajkumar – Research Associate, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Kalyani RajkumarKalyani successfully completed her postgraduate course in Advanced Microelectronic Systems Engineering (AMSE) at the University of Bristol and now works on 5G technology at the Smart Internet lab at the University.

Read more about her student experience.

Dr Antonia Tzemanaki – Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering – Member of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory

I reDr Antonia Tzemanakisearch and develop wearable robotic devices with application in healthcare. This can lead to finding novel solutions to problems that can transform society, which I find very exciting. I also try to combine teaching and research, as working with students on these challenges can be very fulfilling.

Christine Braganza and Ella Allan (students, Department of Mechanical Engineering) and Octavia Clark (student, Engineering Design)

Christine Braganza, Ella Allan and Octavia Clark

Christine, Octavia and Ella created ‘A Grand Gromplication’ for the 2018 Gromit Unleashed 2 charity trail with the help of our brilliant technicians. Read more.

 

 

Professor Weiru Liu – Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Research Director

Professor Weiru LiuMy research is to investigate advanced technologies for developing data-driven intelligent autonomous systems in an  increasingly connected world, so as to  benefit our society and our citizens. Applications of intelligent autonomous systems  are endless, from future transportation, digital health, to personal assistance and  environment monitoring, to name a few.

Dr Ruzanna Chitchyan – EPSRC fellow on Living with Environmental Change and Yael Zekaria – Research Associate, Department of Computer Science

RuzaDr Ruzanna Chitchyan and Yael Zekaria at the International Conference on ICT for Sustainabilitynna is providing software support as the UK’s energy system moves from a fossil fuel-based, centralised set up to a clean, localised, renewables-based alternative. Yael works on modelling skills shortages and training needs, helping  to ensure that the work force is ready for such a transition. Their work is essential to ensure the UK continues to have a reliable, affordable energy supply to homes and businesses. They also focus on the societal impact of the new energy models, making sure that they lead to positive social and community building activities.

Ruzanna is a member of the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

Rachael De’Ath – Senior Teaching Associate, Department of Civil Engineering

Rachael De'Ath working on siteI am a Chartered Structural Engineer at Arup Bristol as well as lecturing at University. I love designing buildings and working as part of a team to deliver them. I think it is really important as it can make such a difference to many people. My particular area of interest and experience is in reuse of existing buildings which I believe is a really important part of sustainable development, as well as always being an interesting challenge as an Engineer!

Rachael was one of the Telegraph Top 50 Women in Engineering 2018.

Grace Kelly and Cora Fung – students, Department of Civil Engineering

Grace Kelly and Cora Fung receiving their awards

Grace Kelly and Cora Fung came first and second in the Institute of Civil Engineers South West Emerging Engineers Award.

The Emerging Engineers Award promotes and rewards outstanding communication of civil engineering ideas and research.

Read the news story.

Dr Karen Aplin – Senior Lecturer in Space Engineering

Dr Karen Aplin and Dr Keri Nicoll working on the Snowdon summit

In this picture I’m with my colleague Dr Keri Nicoll (Universities of Bath and Reading) working on my cosmic ray and meteorological station at Snowdon Summit. I study the effects of space weather on our atmosphere and this research is part of a Welsh language outreach project run by the Royal Astronomical Society. Two Bristol Engineering undergraduate women are also working on this project – Ilham Said from the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Annabelle Bale from Engineering Mathematics.

 

Cara Williamson and Anouk Spelt – PhD students

Cara Williamson and Anouk Spelt

Cara and Anouk are based in the Bio-Inspired Flight lab under the supervision of Dr Shane Windsor. Together, they set up the Urban Gull Project which uses GPS tags to follow 11 lesser black-backed gulls nesting on roofs in Bristol. The project combines engineering and biology. They aim to investigate how urban gulls use and navigate through the urban environment to find out how they save energy and use this knowledge to improve drone navigation in cities. They have also designed and run an outreach event to inspire young people in underrepresented demographics to choose a career in STEM subjects, So far they’ve reached more than 550 young people in Bristol.

Catherine Manning – HR Officer

Catherine Manning
I see myself as facilitator – helping all staff within the Engineering Faculty not only to enjoy being at work, but to fulfill their career potential.  No two days are the same!  I could be supporting someone with disabilities that needs extra assistance, providing HR training on terms and conditions of employment or working on faculty-led projects that promote staff well-being. It’s a busy and varied role and I thoroughly enjoy being part of a team.

Valentina Noacco – NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Water and Environmental Engineering Research Group
Valentina Noacco speaking at a workshopValentina works with the insurance sector to help them make more robust decisions based on their catastrophe models.  By transferring methods, software and expertise on uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, this research has an impact in the real world ensuring financial resilience and better preparation for when disasters hit.

 

Dr Valeska Ting – Reader in Smart Nanomaterials, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Dr Valeska Ting working in the labI am a materials engineer working on the design, fabrication and testing of nanomaterial-based composites. The materials we develop will help us to lower the carbon dioxide emissions from transportation and will allow the adoption of more sustainable fuel sources such as renewable hydrogen.

 

Want to be part of our community?

We’re always looking for more excellent people to join our community. See the full list of job opportunities in the Faculty of Engineering.

Find out more about undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Read about our work to improve diversity.

It’s a boat! It’s a car! It’s… an amphibious super-vehicle!

Our second-year Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Design students did a practical experiment to see which types of vehicle travel through water as well as they run on roads.

The competition saw 190 students working in teams of three to four to design, build and test a successful amphibious vehicle. Their vehicles had to traverse the water obstacle course in less than 40 seconds and weigh in at less than 450 grams.

The purpose of the project is for the students to model and physically realise engineering systems, to manufacture working prototypes and to assess their vehicle’s performance.

And, as you can see from the video, it’s about enjoying the process too!

A day in the life of a Masters student

We asked Samia Mohinta, an Engineering Masters student, to give us a run down of a typical day at the University of Bristol. She’s certainly making the most of her time here…

A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library – Shelby Foote

This definitely doesn’t hold for University of Bristol. We do have libraries and a lot in number, but the buildings also house several exciting things. Most importantly, our labs.

Very shortly about me – I am an MSc student, pursuing Advanced Computing – Machine Learning, Data Mining and High-Performance Computing here in Bristol. I am currently in my second and the penultimate semester for this programme.

I realised that it would be interesting for you all, who are preparing to join UoB in the coming months, to know life functions as a University here. Hence, this post. Fasten your seatbelts and let’s go for a ride.

Day: Tuesday

8.30am

Walk to University for my first lecture

Time to wake up. Today is Tuesday and I have 2 lectures to attend and coursework to work on. Even though my lectures are from 11am, I prefer to wake up a bit early to prepare breakfast and do a bit of ‘planning the day ahead’. I stay in a shared private accommodation, so I grab the breakfast I require and go to the communal kitchen.

Breakfast doesn’t take long and I’m back in room by 9.30am. I generally prefer to make a TO-DO list for the day that also includes information about my extra/co-curricular engagements, if any, for the day, along with my study objectives. We do have a different sets of assignments each week and I feel it’s better to plan it to avoid missing deadlines.

10.30am

I’m ready to go to my first lecture, which is on Robotics Systems. Must say that it is a very fun module, wherein we get to work with actual robots. It’s very challenging also. The Robotic Systems lecture is scheduled in the Chemistry Building, which is about a 12min walk from my place. So, I do reach on time, if you were curious 🙂

11am-12pm

On my lunch hour

Lecture time. Today we are learning about how use a robot to explore an environment and encode a few crucial bits of information about it. Each lecture ideally lasts 50 minutes, given a few exceptions.

We also have 2 or 3 hours lectures and labs, but those generally are scheduled once a week.

12pm

Done with the lecture and now I am heading to another building called the Merchant Venturers Building to meet a few friends, who happen to be my course-mates. We are going to discuss a few ideas on the upcoming robotics assignment and head off to grab lunch at 1pm. Just to let you know, 1-2pm is the lunch hour.

1.40pm

The Merchant Venturer’s Building path

Lunch done. Need to go to the next lecture now. This is one of my favourite subjects right now, because I have always been extremely intrigued by the human brain and its advanced functionalities. The lecture is on Computational Neuroscience. This lecture also lasts for an hour and is held in the Queen’s Building.

Yes, you guessed it right. A CS student like me has to walk a lot every day because we have our lectures spread out across the campus. I take it as a perk, because it saves me from gym subscriptions 🙂 Moreover, you get to take classes in different buildings, which are all architecturally varied. How cool is that!! I love architecture 🙂

3pm

Done with the lecture. Learnt about neurons and now heading to deal with my coursework, which is also on Computational Neuroscience. So, I prefer to work in the MVB (Merchant Venturers Building), because it has got the computer labs. Our lifeblood!

I am working with a few friends and we try to help each other out as and when we get stuck with something. Sometimes I also drop into my lecturer’s office to get clarity on a specific concept. But, today I hope, I don’t have to do that. I believe I shall be able to solve the problem given the resources at hand and with some collective intelligence.

5pm

Almost done with the coursework. Need a break from studies and what can be better than indulging in an Engineering talk with a lot of free pizzas. Yes, there is a talk today by a renowned faculty member on the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. So, I am tagging along with my group to attend that talk in Queen’s. I’m sure it will be fun.

6.30pm

That was a fun talk and loads of info! Time to call it a day from Uni. Dinner is waiting to be cooked back home and after that I need to finish my coursework.

8.30pm

Have finished dinner. Met my housemates. Chitted-chatted. Let’s get done with the coursework.

9.30pm

Evening view from Queen’s

Coursework done and dusted. Now the thing that is left is verification and validation of what I have done as part of it. I’ll take this up tomorrow with my friends.

Extra-curricula’s on. Yeah, I know, I am odd. I go for a run every day at this hour. Fresh air gives me a fresh mind. I should mention that Bristol is very safe and I’ve not had any problems.

10.30pm

Got back. Re-hydrated my body and now I wish to engage in some co-curriculas. Food for the brain is important too. I am going to watch a few TEDx videos now for about 40 minutes. I have made the list of videos to watch in the morning. That’s how I know the time it will require.

12am

Woow!! Great videos. Awesomely inspiring and intriguing. Was a good day. Should sleep now. Tomorrow is a new day and will be a new schedule too.

Hope you all have got an idea of how an ordinary day looks like here. Some days are quiet, some are really eventful. Some can be productive and some might be pretty annoying too. But as we say, variety is the spice of life. Challenges make it more exciting. There are loads of opportunities and things to do here than just study.

Good luck!!

You can read more about Samia in her ‘top tips for an international student’ blog

Building a chaos machine

The mathematics of chaos theory is useful for studying non-linear dynamic systems in Mechanical and Civil Engineering. Our technician Mictroy has built a ‘chaos machine’, a pendulum based teaching tool to help Engineering students get their heads around the theory.

Building earthquake-proof schools in Nepal

The 2015 earthquake in Nepal was devastating. 9,000 people died, 3.5 million were left homeless and whole communities were flattened.

Our Civil Engineers have been working with local experts, the Government of Nepal, the Universities of Kathmandu and Tribhuvan, Arup International Development, NSET, Save the Children and school pupils in Nepal to save lives by making buildings and communities safer – starting with schools.

The project, led by Professor Anastasios Sextos, combines cutting edge research and laboratory-based testing with co-produced solutions developed with and by communities in Nepal.

For the project to succeed the solutions must be affordable, locally-sourced and acceptable to local people. During the last field trip our researchers spoke to lots of Nepalese people who witnessed the devastation caused by collapsed buildings in the 2015 quake.

We’re using our seismic shaking table to see how replicas of Nepalese classrooms, strengthened using novel yet cost-effective techniques, perform in earthquake conditions. ~We are also developing a simple, state-of-the-art phone app that lets local engineers identify at-risk schools and make them safer while facilitating informed decision making at a central level.

All our research is supported by workshops and on-site training so, aided by our local and international partners, we’re leaving behind the skills and expertise for communities to rebuild Nepal safely.

The team are heading out to Nepal again in April and will be updating us on this exciting project.