The Institution’s Young Researchers' Conference is 20 years old this year. Throughout its history it has featured some outstanding young researchers who have gone on to enjoy prestigious careers. Here six previous winners of awards update us on their careers and give their thoughts on the future of research and structural engineering.
Craig Buchanan (2015)
Since taking part in the Conference Craig studied in Barcelona, Spain - undertaking the first structural tests on ferritic stainless steel CHS beam-columns and long columns and exploring metal 3D printing. He finished his PhD in 2017. He is now a Research Associate at Imperial College London and the Alan Turing Institute.
“My current project is very exciting, working on the first metal 3D printed bridge. We are having to utilise techniques not commonly used in structural engineering research, such as laser scanning and silicone casting, whilst working with partners such as Arup and Autodesk.
“In terms of wider structural engineering research I am enthused by the amount of knowledge that we as a profession still have to gain. New materials are being developed and considered for use in construction, new manufacturing techniques are being developed and there is an ever increasing need to ensure construction is sustainable.
“I am obviously biased, but I think the adoption of 3D printing techniques should be a priority for structural engineering research. Many challenges still remain before widespread adoption, although there are significant benefits and opportunities to be realised once these are overcome.”
Mahmud relocated to Australia in 2008, working as a lecturer in the University of Queensland, a Senior Lecturer at the University of New South Wales and now an Associate Professor at Deakin University in Australia.
Mahmud Ashraf (2005)
“It meant a lot to me as a PhD student to participate in the Conference and eventually to win the award! I am still very much in research, working mostly on structural behaviour of thin-walled metallic materials as well as on 3D printed metallic structures.
“I’m really interested in research around the challenges we face related to sustainability - I don’t think we are doing enough for the environment in regards to infrastructure design.
“I think one research priority for the next 20 years should be light weight structures using high to very high strength materials, and the use of additive manufacturing to promote more ‘organic engineering’ trends.”
Guido Morgenthal (2001)
Since participating in the Young Researchers' Conference Guido worked for three consultancies in Germany, Hong Kong and Denmark, designing long-span bridges, before returning to research as a professor at Bauhaus Universität Weimar.
“I think a practical design background helps you to do research that has relevance to real world engineering problems.
“I would encourage everyone doing research not to lose touch with what real engineering is about and what your research means in that context.
“The priority for structural engineering research should be to employ modern technologies to arrive at completely digitalised workflows from design and detailing to fabrication, operation and maintenance, adaptation and demolition.”
Dr Tak-Ming Chan (2007)
Dr Chan graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 2001 with a first-class honours degree in Civil Engineering. He received his master's degree in Structural Steel Design in 2004, and was awarded a PhD in the area of Tubular Structures in 2008, both from Imperial College London. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a corresponding member of the Institution’s Research Panel.
“In 2007, I was awarded the First Prize in the Young Researchers' Conference. My first PhD student, Dr Therese Sheehan, also won a prize at the 2012 Conference and my second PhD student, Dr Majd Khador, won the joint-first prize in the poster category at the 2013 Conference.
“It is exciting and rewarding to unlock research challenges through fruitful collaborations with young and experienced researchers in the UK and Hong Kong. It is satisfying to witness how research can be translated to practice and linked to educating engineering students and training structural engineers. It is this passing of the torch to the next generation that excites me as a structural engineer, academic and researcher.
“Research and practice go hand in hand in structural engineering. Research areas that should be prioritised include adaptable infrastructure - from the efficient use of traditional, new and high-performance construction materials to adaptable structural systems in different continents.”
Tim Stratford (1999)
After finishing his PhD at the University of Cambridge, Tim spent a year at the University of Bologna (Italy) as a post-doc, researching fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) strengthening for masonry walls in earthquakes. He also spent a couple of years at Faber Maunsell, working on a wide range of structural engineering projects, before moving to the University of Edinburgh in 2003 as a Lecturer, where he is now Head of Graduate School for PhD students across all the research areas in the School of Engineering.
“I continue to research structural applications of FRP composites: we recently examined corrugated FRP panels to stiffen the webs of deep steel plate-girder bridges. My work on FRPs for civil engineering structures has led me into research in the aerospace and energy sectors – in areas like aircraft impact and wind turbine blade fatigue. I also research the performance of concrete structures during a fire, study the mechanics of snow, and the structural performance of crops.
“The things that excite me in current research are what’s happening at the boundaries between the traditional engineering professions. Bringing together the right people into a multi-disciplinary team gives a real energy and excitement to the research.
“As Head of Graduate School I get to meet all of the PhD students across our School of Engineering, and it is great to hear the multi-disciplinary work they are doing, and to encourage them to share their ideas and expertise across the whole of our School (and beyond Engineering, with sociology, medicine, architecture, informatics...)
“The digital transformation of our profession will have profound changes on the way we work over the next twenty years. The structural engineer has to remain at the heart of the engineering design process, but computers are ever better at carrying out the calculations that we currently train our structural engineering students to do. The profession therefore needs to proactively shape the future role of the structural engineer. I believe exciting times lie ahead in the way that structural engineers work, and we need to prepare our engineering graduates for a career where they will need to be adaptable and creative, as well as having a firm understanding of theory.”
Sarah was a winner at the first ever Conference in 1999 and addressed the 20th Conference as keynote speaker.
Dr Sarah Prichard (1999)
She is now one of BuroHappold’s leaders in the field of building vibrations and dynamics and consults widely in the area, particularly on mixed use, sports, hospital and laboratory projects.
"Structural engineers will have an important role to play as we minimise material and energy usage in next generation buildings. Researchers need to contribute by developing a greater understanding of innovative construction materials and building typologies to reduce the impact of the urban realm on the environment, using data and analysis to complement measurement. However, this needs to be done in conjunction with other engineers so that the overall solutions are complementary, considering building environments and the design of cities, and lead to the swiftest possible development of optimal building designs for the future."
The 2018 Conference
This year’s Conference
took place on 10 April 2018 at Institution HQ. Extracts from the event are available on the Institution Youtube channel