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News, anecdotes and pictures from across science and engineering at UCL


Archive for the 'Engineering Sciences' Category

10 Questions

By ucqndko, on 5 December 2014

An interview in 10 Questions…

In this monthly feature, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) interviews our researchers, academics, students, clinicians, affiliates and partners to find out a little more about who they are and what they do.

This month the IBME interviewed Dr Ben Hanson, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, UCL

Ben Hanson

1. What is your job title?

Senior Lecturer & Departmental Tutor

2. How long have you worked as a Senior Lecturer & Departmental Tutor?

Nine years as a Lecturer, appointed as Departmental Tutor last year.

3. What keywords would you pick to describe your work?

Biomechanics, signal processing.

4. What is your favourite thing about your work?

Solving problems, that’s what engineering is all about. It’s lovely to work in hospitals, and with inspiring people who make a real difference to people’s lives. We’re doing a great project at the moment showing scary movies to people with implanted pacemakers in an attempt to identify how stress affects the heart. [UCL News; Time Magazine]

5. What’s been your career highlight?

My first publication in a medical research journal, (Circulation, 2009). That took a lot of hard work and head-scratching, but my struggle to understand the workings of the heart and to make sense of some data we’d recorded turned out to be really useful in revealing how things worked at a fundamental level.

6. What is your favourite quote?

Miss Piggy: “Never eat more than you can lift” (a great image and, I guess, a lesson in biomechanics).

7. Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My first PhD supervisor, Andy Plummer, who is such a nice human being as well as being an engineering genius: he demonstrated that the two are compatible.

8. What do you do in your spare time?

Eat! Often with friends & family, often something I’ve made: I am a chocoholic and like making chocolates. My research involves the biomechanics of eating and drinking for people who have difficulties, e.g. due to a stroke, surgery or dementia. I’m very motivated to find ways to control the mechanical properties of foods & drinks to make them easier to manage so that I can continue to enjoy my food when I’m old & frail.

9. What’s your favourite book at the moment?

I was laughing out loud at “The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared”.

10. If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

I love it when the clocks go back and you have an extra hour in the day so I would have an extra hour please, then I might get to do some of the things that unfortunately get squeezed out.


Dr Ben Hanson is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at University College London, with Affiliate status in the Division of Medicine. Dr Hanson researches biomedical applications of engineering, system-modelling and analysis.

Representing resource use at UCL… using chemistry glassware and electronics

By uccafau, on 20 October 2014



How do you represent the complexities of the resource use of a university using just what you can find in a chemistry lab – and some collective ingenuity?

That’s what Andrea Sella, Joanna Marshall-Cook and I set out to do over the course of last week with the help of Rae Harbird and Stephen Hailes.

The result, Elements, is on show in UCL’s North Cloisters for Degrees of Change, a week long endeavour by UCL’s Sustainability team to explore the environmental consequences of all the world-class teaching, research, collecting, exhibiting, making, inventing and outreach that goes on at the university.

During the research for the installation I learned some interesting statistics. For instance, a typical chemistry fume cupboard uses 10,000kWh of electricity per year (£1,000), and our heating comes from a series of underground pipes.

The installation is a visual metaphor for how the university’s heating and water systems work. We often don’t think about the consequences of running a tap, or pouring a bucket down a drain, flushing a toilet, taking a shower. Chemical glassware in all its varied and complex forms provides a perfect toolbox to explore the convoluted system of flows in resource infrastructure. Elements incorporates soxhlets – a type of chemical glassware normally used for extracting liquid from a solid, such as producing essential oils – which act as reservoirs within the system as a whole, just as we act as reservoirs for water either within ourselves or by our actions.

Lots of crazy glassware and - lit up in green and looking suspiciously like UCL Engineering's logo, an EngDuino computer, monitoring the water level in the system

Lots of crazy glassware and – lit up in green and looking suspiciously like UCL Engineering’s logo – an EngDuino computer, monitoring the water level in the system

The crazy glassware installation also has a 5L round bottomed flask and an electric pump – after all, it takes power to heat and move all the university’s water. The flask is like the water infrastructure external to UCL – and is monitored by an EngDuino and sensor, programmed by Rae and Stephen, that alerts us when the water levels are low.

A sensor detects the water level and reports back to the Engduino if the level is too low

A sensor detects the water level and reports back to the Engduino if the level is too low

At a time of increasing water scarcity and climate change due to our energy use, it’s important to realise that our actions on a personal scale have a real affect that ripples through the infrastructure that helps us live as well as we do.

Skulls, subs, and selective laser sintering

By ucqnklo, on 14 July 2014

We hear a lot about 3D printing as the future of manufacture, but it’s also finding many applications in research.

Today’s picture of the week shows three of the uses researchers at UCL Engineering are finding for additive manufacture.

Examples of research objects created using 3D printing at UCL Engineering

Examples of research objects created using 3D printing at UCL Engineering

On the left, a model submarine printed by a student in Naval Architecture lets them see their designs in 3D. In the middle, UCL computer scientists experiment with the exciting new problem of creating virtual models that can be printed out with movable, posable parts; and on the right, a section of 3D printed skull, recreated from scans by researchers at UCL Medical Physics based within UCLH, enables surgeons to plan their operations.

Old school meets new tech: a chimp skull from UCL's zoological teaching collections next to a high-tech 3D print from UCL Medical Physics.

Just for fun: old school meets new tech: a chimp skull from UCL’s Bioanthropology Collections next to a high-tech 3D print of a modern human from UCL Medical Physics. Will 3D printed skulls be the future of anatomy teaching?

All of these models were printed using a method called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). This is a kind of 3D printing that uses lasers to melt bits of a polymer powder together in the shape of a cross-section through the object you want to print. Then, a layer of power is added on top, and another layer melted. If it is resting on powder, that powder will just brush off when the plastic model is removed: if it is resting on a previously melted bit, it will stick to it.

This is a more expensive way to 3D print than the hobby-level 3D printers which are more commonly seen, which basically squeeze out layers of plastic like toothpaste, stacking them up into shapes . However, it allows the printing of more complicated shapes, with overhangs and interpenetrating parts – so it’s really handy for detailed research uses. UCL has a number of 3D printers, some free for all our staff and students to use in our open access Makespace.