(Above: a detail from Kostas' poster featured at the event)
Kostas Kalfas presented his research on steel reinforcement cages to members of the UK Parliament on 12 March as part of “STEM for Britain”, an initiative designed to encourage, support and promote Britain's early-career researchers and stimulate British research and development. Here he discusses his research and the importance of the event.
My research project focuses on strengthening the stability of steel reinforcement cages in their temporary state. Such cages, which serve to reinforced concrete structures, are found in their temporary state (un-concreted, self-standing structures) on all major infrastructure projects.
Over the last ten years, due to changes in working practices, there have been a number of cage collapses - leading to increased budgets and construction times, negative sustainability impacts (a collapse will require re-fabrication of materials) and much more seriously some life-changing injuries and fatalities in the work force - so the study of steel reinforcement cages’ behaviour is a high priority for the construction industry.
Such construction industry issues are of real importance to the UK government: construction is one of the largest sectors of the UK economy, contributing 6.7 % of the UK’s GVA, with 2.9 million jobs related to this industry.
My research uses both experimental and numerical approaches to check the response of these structures at full-scale and micro-scale (the connections between the reinforcement bars). The intent is to provide strengthening techniques for the cages as well as simple numerical and analytical methods that will allow construction practitioners to better understand the response of their cages. This in turn will help create faster, more economical, environmentally friendly and safer working conditions for the work force.
I attended ‘STEM for Britain’ after a discussion with a colleague - it is a great opportunity for young researchers to present their work in the Houses of Commons, and while not focused on structural engineering, the idea of meeting MPs and explaining the impact this research can have intrigued me. Events like this encourage us to continue our work, which is a continuous effort to improve the conditions in our area of expertise.
The fact that people from outside the industry attend the event raises the profile of researchers and is a great opportunity for us to hone our presentation skills with an audience of important decision makers. The ability to communicate ideas simply and clearly is one of the most important parts of a researcher’s career: everybody’s work is assessed based on the impact that it has in the research community and industry, and if you cannot communicate that well it could lower the impact of your work.
From my small experience, and after attending the ‘STEM for Britain Exhibition’, I realised that most people are capable of understanding everyone’s research topic, if it is explained in simple words and if too much terminology is avoided. The main challenge that I faced was during the poster preparation, because I had to include photos that would make the problem clear combined with text containing the least possible terminology. However, the feedback that I received from the non-engineer judges and the MPs was positive, which means that they understood the project and its importance for the construction industry.
I would like to thank my two supervisors, Dr Brett Mckinley and Dr Alfredo Camara, for their guidance and their continuous support and help. This is a project that is supported by the ‘Centre of Excellence in Temporary Works and Construction Method Engineering’ and the ‘Research Centre in Civil Engineering Structures’ of City, University of London, as well as by the ‘Temporary Works forum’. Finally, I would like to thank City, University of London for funding this PhD, as well as Costain Group PLC for partially funding me.
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