Dec 10

Next generation engineers

What happens when 110 Year 4 & 5 Primary School children meet a 1,000 mph car?

Last week I was lucky enough to give a talk at a local (Bristol, UK) Primary School about the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (Bloodhound SSC) project. I signed up as a 1K supporter pretty much as the scheme launched (Aug 2009) and as an Ambassador shortly after that. Having done a couple of STEM / Bloodhound Ambassador events and activities, this was my first Primary School and first solo talk.

The pupils at the school had been making their own cars and were keen to know more about how Bloodhound SSC is being made. As a mechanical engineer by first degree, it was an excellent opportunity to talk with the children and pass on some of my passion for engineering!!

One of the great innovative technologies being used with Bloodhound SSC is the use of composite fibres in the monocoque shell that houses Andy Green & the HTP (High Test Peroxide) tank. While a primary school probably doesn’t have access to carbon fibre and autoclaves, they do use papier-mâché (which is a composite material) – so I could legitimately say they were using the same basic engineering technologies as Bloodhound SSC!

I also had the opportunity to show a video of some of the high speed machining that Hanson’s are undertaking for the space frame. While there was no direct link to what they’re doing in the classroom, I wanted to show them actual metal cutting and the preparation needed before you slam £25k of spindle into aircraft grade aluminium.

I had a couple of key things to communicate (mainly around what engineers do, and the level of teamwork and cooperation needed in modern engineering challenges), plus lots of facts & figures about the car itself.  I had to decide what to start with to engage with the children, and keep them engaged for 30min. The animation of Bloodhound SSC racing a Eurofighter is great for this – it’s high tempo and has lots of reference points that helped keep momentum through the talk.

Bloodhound SSC – by a Year 5 student

I followed this with some background details on the car, fortunately the Education Team at Bloodhound SSC make all this stuff available for Ambassadors. We just need to pick it up and flesh out the narrative, and make it appropriate to the audience. At each point when I started to talk about fabricating the structure, or the composite shell – I could pull up a video from BHTV (Bloodhound Television) to illustrate what I was talking about.

I ended the presentation with the video of the rocket test in Newquay on 3 Oct 2012. A really great high point to end on!

After about 30min presentation, I was then bombarded with questions; such as “Why was there all that water when they were cutting the metal bits out?”, and “Why does Andy Green wear a crash helmet?”

Communicating effectively is critical to success in any field; engineering, business, primary school teaching. Having a clear message, sound facts, and a simple presentation really helps tell the story, whether it’s an investor pitch or a class of 8-10 year olds!

That’s (part of) what I do; clarify objectives & ambitions, into plans & narratives, that can be communicated & acted upon.

[In the slide deck below, the blank slides linked to the Bloodhound / Eurofighter race (not officially available), BHTV Episodes 1, 15 and 17]
[slideshare id=15575330&doc=bloodhoundschoolevent-121210124940-phpapp02]

Jul 15

Supersonic cafe

[Disclosure: I was attending last night’s Science Cafe in my role as Manager of Science City Bristol.]

At last night’s Science Cafe, a broad group of Bristolians heard about CFD, Pitch drips, carbon footprint of cows, and road spray from lorries; all from a talk about a 1,000mph rocket car!

Pitch drop experiment on Wikipedia

Pitch drop experiment on Wikipedia

Computational Fluid Dynamics is the particular research discipline of Dr Clare Wood and Dr Ben Evans from Cardiff University. Clare began with a basic introduction to CFD, some of the history of the Navier-Stokes equations and the other uses they get put to. This was where the Pitch Drop came in; an experiment started in 1930 to measure the viscosity of pitch (which looks like a solid), there have been 8 drips of pitch since then as it very slowly flows into the catching beaker. Unfortunately, no one has ever witnessed a pitch-drip, there was a technical hiccup with the video feed [requires Windows Media Player] on the last drop (28 November, 2000). Clare also talked about ‘proper’ science and using CFD to model blood flow in hearts and the bio-medical applications.

Ben then picked up the topic and began talking about the pressure waves that develop as you move from sub-sonic through to super-sonic. A major challenge is the incredible pressure that will occur around the rear wheels as the third shock wave develops. This is potentially so strong it could physically lift the back-end of the car into the air, obviously a bad thing at 1,000mph!

There’s a limit to what can be done with the mini-winglets that are being used to trim the car aerodynamically, so Ben and the CFD team are leading the engineering design changes to the rear suspension & underside to try and reduce these pressure waves to make the car safe to drive. There was some more about the research development of new CFD algorithms and the promo-video (embedded at the end of this post).

After a short break, the Q&A began. The first question was about the environmental impact of a 1,000mph rocket car with follow up comments about the 19th Century’ness of a fast car. Although this wasn’t Ben’s area of specific expertise its obviously something that comes up fairly regularly. An environmental economist (or something like that) has looked at the car, the project and worked out their carbon footprint for the whole 4 year project. Apparently it comes to around 4 cows farting for a year; now I’d never entered the term “cow fart” into Google before this morning (who would) but it seems quite a research topic, even the Telegraph are reporting it!

As to the choice of a rocket car (rather than a green car); this had been intended from the outset to be an engineering adventure. The car & the 1,000mpt target are almost incidental, the primary aim is to get children (and the young at heart) excited about science & engineering and thinking about careers in the sciences. Rockets are still exciting to young kids!

The topics moved around and one that came up was the legacy of the project, what will we have after the final run (other than a very expensive museum exhibit)? Ben explained that much of the research involved in the CFD modelling is directly transferable. The example he used was how spray is formed at the back of lorries in the rain. One of the challenges of Bloodhound is the generation of a dust spray from the wheels and shock wave, and modelling how this mix of air & particles grows and affects the car. The same physics are (they think) involved in road spray from lorries, but no one has developed a good model of how spray forms and moves around the lorry. When you drive into this spray, in overtaking for example, it can be a real safety hazard, by modelling this and proposing different designs for the lorries, they might be able to reduce this spray and improve road safety.

There were tons of other questions (about an hour’s worth), it was a really great evening. Thanks to John and At-Bristol for hosting and to Bob Foster for his Science Cafe website where I found out about the event from Bob’s Calendar.

Jun 11

Design, faster than a bullet

[This is a re-post from the Bristol Design Festival blog where I’m guest blogging the festival. And updated with better graphics thanks to Mike.]

Just back from a cracking talk by Mike Turner, Senior Designer on the Bloodhound SSC project. [Full disclosure, I’m a member of the Bloodhound SSC 1K Club; everything I say is highly biased, I think this is a fantastic project to be based in Bristol. :) ]

The talk was introduced by Bob Mytton, Chair of the West of England Design Forum.

Mike began with a bit of background on his career so far, from trains to cars to JCB diggers. This last culminated with JCB’s DieselMax project, to design a diesel that would go over 350mph. Speed was definitely in Mike’s future!

Although Bloodhound is an “Engineering Adventure”, their tagline, it’s ambition is to:
1. To create a national surge in the popularity of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects
2. To create an iconic project requiring extreme research and technology whilst simultaneously providing the means to enable the student population to join in the adventure
3. To achieve the first 1000 mph record on land

Mike quickly moved on to his core specialty of designing the outer surface, the bit that interacts with the air flow. Beginning with the outline design concept, Mike developed a refined shape for the car. This went to the team at Swansea University that were handling the CFD work. The results from the CFD, together with the engineering structural & package development (steering, suspension, controls, Andy Green, etc) were then fed into the next design cycle with Mike.

In the Q&A afterwards Mike was quizzed on the time the CFD added to the design cycle time. When they first started each CFD run was taking a couple of weeks (to run the numbers, check them and be confident of the answers). After going public with the project they were picking up additional computing support, each run was around a day.

The main challenges are to make the whole car as strong as possible (without increasing the weight too much); as slippery as possible for a Eurofighter jet engine with a solid fuel rocket strapped to it; as stable as possible in a straight line (without being so stable that Andy can’t direct it at all); and keep it on the ground (without turning into a 1,000mph plough).

So no conflicting pressures for Andy to juggle in his design decisions!

For all the CFD modeling, I was particularly struck by the comment that Mike put up from Ron Ayers, Chief Aerodynamicist on appreciating the designer’s eye for form & proportion “if it looks right, it probably is right”.

yewenyi, 16 April 2007

yewenyi, 16 April 2007

As an aside, it was Ron’s earlier work developing the Bristol Bloodhound Surface to Air Missile that gave rise to the project code name.

The Q&A was lively with Mike fielding questions for at least half an hour and staying around for another half hour as people continued to discuss the car, the design activity, and a bunch of technical questions that demonstrated real interest and enthusiasm.

A fantastic evening, thanks to the Bristol Design Festival and West of England Design Forum for organising.