I know it seems like forever ago, but if you can, please try and cast your mind back to just a couple of weeks before Christmas. Back then, we met one our most charismatic and entertaining #MondayMaterials interviewees of the series so far. We told you at the time that Costas would be back soon, and here he is.
This time, though, Costas isn’t here to tell us about his personal research and interests. Instead, he’s here to introduce us to a research institute which he directs. The Aerospace Research Institute is a cross University institute, but as it is run by one of our very own we wanted to let you know more about it. And for that, we’ll hand over to Costas:
Hi Costas – welcome back to the blog! Could you please explain the focus of the research at the Aerospace Research Institute?
The Aerospace Research Institute covers all the key areas related to aeronautics and space.
So the research topics that we’re looking at range from airport security to space. We have about sixty academics coming from across the schools of the faculty (EPS), as well as outside of the faculty and in the different centres, working with us on different aspects from advanced materials, to traditional aerodynamics, acoustics, flight mechanics, and autonomous systems.
So we cover quite a lot of areas related to space and traditional aeronautics.
And how can the institute’s research benefit the general public?
As we said earlier, the Aerospace Research Institute is a network and an umbrella which brings together people from different disciplines. And the public, the way it benefits from that, can include the design of the quieter aeroplane and an aeroplane that emits less CO₂ – and that’s just a couple of examples!
So always the aim is to design something that is also environmentally friendly. So you can say that it flies faster, it’s lighter, and it’s greener!
Sounds fantastic. So what are some of the institute’s key achievements so far?
The key achievements of the institute are that we encourage people from different disciplines to come and work on big challenges and we promote the subject of aeronautics and space to all ages –from young people in senior schools and all the way to those in industry.
So the institute organises workshops that are open to the public, also. We host events for the North West branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society. We organise seminars and conferences. We publicise all of the research activity that takes place within the University.
And what about the facilities in the institute? Could you tell us a bit about them?
Actually, the institute doesn’t really have its own facilities because all of the research takes place with the research affiliates and the partners.
However, the Aerospace Research Institute is housed together with the Advanced Composites Centre. So some of those facilities – when people visit our institute – they can see all the research related to non-metallic materials.
So, as you know, the new Airbus A350 has a structure that is made of 53% carbon fibre material. And if you come here you can see some of the facilities and some of the testing and characterisation that we perform in order to better understand these types of advanced materials systems.
And what about the future? What work is being done that could have an important impact going forward?
Always the emphasis is to build the next generation of aeroplanes that are always lighter structures, because in that way you have an impact on the fuel consumption.
And the other aspect, of course, is how to reduce the noise, especially when people’s houses are close to the airport – like Manchester Airport. So that benefit can be seen with the development of the next generation of gas turbine engines, which are much quieter. This means it will disturb less and less the people living nearby.
How does the institute relate to The University of Manchester’s beacons?
One of the University’s beacons, which has been identified and highlighted on our website and all that, relates to Advanced Materials performing in very hostile environments, from the oil and gas industry to aerospace.
So one of the research themes under the umbrella of the Aerospace Research Institute is Advanced Materials in the form of metallic, advanced aluminium, and titanium alloys, and also non-metallics like the carbon fibre reinforced plastics we mentioned earlier.
So there’s a lot of research activity, and always that activity is sponsored and funded by the aerospace industry through companies like Airbus, Rolls Royce, GKN – all the primes – and of course Tier 1 companies, too.
Recently one of the successes was to secure funding from Embraer, which is the Brazilian aerospace industry. That can be considered as a big achievement, identifying us as the industry’s first choice partner.
Brilliant, thank you. And congratulations on the latest success! So, to finish, how would you sum up the mission of the Aerospace Research Institute?
Our mission, the way we see it, is to inform the public – because, after all, it is the taxpayer that funds much of our research – of what we do, why we’re here, how the wider society will benefit from the research we do.
Of course the subject we always promote is aerospace, but we’ve seen already that under this aerospace umbrella the topics cover a wide range of areas. Like we said earlier there’s the aerodynamics, the acoustics, the advanced materials – even airport security, which again is a current issue.
But at the same time we wish to encourage the younger generation, and attract the younger generation to this subject. Not only the boys, but also girls as well. So we pay and we put a lot of effort to work with our local schools and the local community to inform them of activities that are taking place at the regional level, but also at the national level. And we work with the North West Aerospace Alliance in order to also transfer some of this knowledge that we develop at the University to the small companies that supply the aerospace industry.
So we are members of the National Aerospace Technology Programme, where we work closely with small companies to enable them to improve their product, become more competitive, create wealth for the region, and for the country. We are also members of the Association of Aerospace Universities which gives opportunities to our students to compete at the regional and national and international level. And some of those competitions involve the design and the building of the mini UAVS – unmanned aerial vehicles.
I have one in my pocket actually, which is The University of Manchester mini UAV. (Costas pulls a little flying device from his jacket pocket at this point, giving us a rather brilliant demonstration. Watch the vide above to get the full effect!) Which of course with the propeller – you can produce your own graphene, using the scotch tape exfoliation technique – so there you are, it’s a multifunctional item. Graphene plus … Mini UAV!
Thanks, Costas! That’s definitely the most effective use of props on the blog so far.
More than that, though, it was fascinating to hear about some of the most exciting research going on in the School and the University as a whole. Once again, we get to see how some of our work really is at the forefront of innovation and impact. Exciting times!