In the driving seat of fundamental science
Interview with Professor John Bridgeman, Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer
Richard McComb met Professor John Bridgeman in March to understand the reach and impact of research in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.
Quark-gluon plasma, cryogenic energy storage and radar systems that allow cars to adjust their speed automatically, without the driver doing a thing, may not appear to have much in common.
But they are all examples of cutting-edge scientific discoveries that have grown out of the research within the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.
As competition for research funding grows more acute, collaboration between fundamental science and engineering, which is actively encouraged at the University, is likely to play an increasingly important role in pushing the boundaries of new inquiry.
The academic in charge of nurturing intellectual talent and driving this innovative, cross-disciplinary collaboration is Professor John Bridgeman, who was appointed Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer for the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences last November.
Professor Bridgeman is on familiar territory at the campus, having graduated from the University, in civil engineering, in 1989. He subsequently worked in industry, for Severn Trent, for 15 years, before he re-joined the University as a senior lecturer in civil engineering, focusing on teaching and research in water engineering. There then followed a personal chair in environmental engineering in 2013.
Professor Bridgeman is now responsible for driving the research portfolio of the College’s nine schools and maximising its output. The work involves effective stakeholder management and intelligence gathering to ensure the University is, in Professor Bridgeman’s words, “truly strong and world-beating.”
In broad terms, this means addressing three key research themes, whose spheres of influence overlap. The themes can be broadly summarised as: Science Frontiers; Advanced Manufacturing; and Resilience, Energy and Sustainability.
Most Collegeresearch activity maps on to these three areas,” says Professor Bridgeman. “My job is to maximise the research we do in terms of its value in financial terms and environmental and societal terms so that the University is recognised as world leading in these areas.
“Collaborative working within the College has to be the key. We have real opportunities with the College structure because it brings people together, so we have, for example, chemists collaborating with materials engineers, and physicists working with civil engineers.
By forming the strongest research teams, the University will benefit when it comes to attracting funding for research.
Professor Bridgeman added: “But it is not simply about following the money. It is about carrying out research that has benefit and impact for society, the environment and science.”
In terms of Science Frontiers, the University’s huge range of world-leading research goes from the very smallest to the very largest, from quarks to galaxies, unlocking the mysteries of what happened straight after the Big Bang to the discovery of new planets in the Goldilocks Zone.
Particle Physics and Nuclear Physics – one of the areas covered by the Science Frontiers theme – arguably accounts for one of the most well-known research discoveries – namely, the Higgs boson, providing one of the biggest break-throughs in physics in half a century. University physicists were at the forefront of analysis that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson in ultra-high energy proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider, built by CERN, the Geneva-based European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
In Advanced Manufacturing, the University has been in the driving seat on developments in automotive radar, boosting safety levels for motorists. Adaptive cruise control (ACC) and blind spot monitoring (BSM) are now integral to the Jaguar Land Rover range and engineers have delivered training programmes in “understanding automotive radar: theory, practice and current development” to the company. Manufacturers including BMW, Daimler Benz, Fiat and Volvo have further benefitted from the University’s expertise via work for the EU Technical Committee working on European standards for radar.
The thematic portfolio covering Resilience, Energy and Sustainability puts the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the forefront of devising sustainable solutions to the challenges of building future cities, energy and transportation.
The University is making significant contributions to nuclear energy and energy storage with research extending into areas such as bio fuels, powertrain systems, novel energy carriers and energy-efficient manufacturing. Researchers are helping to develop cryogenic energy storage, which could be used to drive turbines and generate “green” electricity for future generations, and energy will remain a major theme for the College’s research going forward
Here in the College we are making discoveries in fundamental science and transferring this knowledge into new technologies to revolutionise the way we think about the world around us.
This feature was originally published in Buzz.