Ten ways Engineering and Physical Sciences helps deliver Christmas

The modern day Christmas holiday typically involves travelling to visit family, enjoying food and sharing gifts. Frustration-free travel, luxurious yet low-fat food and secure online shopping are just some of things demanded by 21st century society.

Innovative thinking by researchers is delivering practical solutions to those modern day challenges. Here are just ten ways that research at University of Birmingham could be having an impact on your Christmas journey.

1. The changing world of perfume

perfume

Fragrances are a popular gift at Christmas but the chemistry behind them is changing rapidly. Increasing pressure to reduce the amount of allergens has forced chemists to find new ingredients and cheaper ones. When you sample these new scents on Christmas morning, reflect in the skill of the chemists and perfumers who drive the science of perfume.

2. Online security

Mobile phone being used on a train

We part easily with our personal details in an unprecendented way in retail, but how much thought do we give to cyber security? The Security and Privacy Group in the School of Computer Science are producing internationally leading research to ensure we stay safe online and work with industry to solve real world problems.

3. Low fat chocolate

chocolate

Imagine eating a chocolate bar on Christmas Day that is low in fat yet tastes just as good as the full fat version. Thanks to world-leading research in the School of Chemical Engineering, that idea may soon become reality, replacing some of the fat globules with water to deliver all the flavour without the guilty aftertaste!

4. Evaluating and improving road networks

roads

No-one enjoys sitting in traffic on the roads, especially at Christmas! Ground breaking research by Civil Engineers has developed a model to evaluate and improve road networks across the world. In use by the World Bank on over 200 projects, perhaps it affects your Christmas journey?

5. Greener engines

engines

With climate change high on the agenda we demand evermore efficient, powerful and greener engines for our vehicles. Thanks to our Future Engines and Fuels Laboratory we are working with industry partners such as Jaguar Land Rover and Shell to develop the next generation of engine technology. Generating fewer emissions, a Christmas gift for the planet.

6. Keeping trains running in the worst weather

trains

Of course, not all of us travel by car. Ensuring railways are running efficiently when the temperature drops below freezing is a key part of the research carried out at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education. Our labs can test rails to -58C, ensuring even the most extreme weather conditions are analysed.

7. 3D printed Christmas gifts

reindeer

Imagine searching for a gift idea online and printing it out in 3D at home? Pioneering research by Professor Moataz Attallah suggests that idea isn’t far from reality, demonstrating this by 3D printing a reindeer from metal. The first multi-laser metal 3D printer to be installed in a university anywhere in the world has arrived at Birmingham to support our advanced manufacturing research.

8. The sound of the sun

el-sol

Jewellery fashion takes a new leap this Christmas; Swarovski recently collaborated with physicists from Birmingham to create a soundscape of the sun for their El Sol installation, a scale model of the sun made from 2,880 precision cut crystals.

9. The mathematics of Christmas decorations

Koch animation

Whilst many would observe an ordinary snowflake above, mathematicians see a Koch snowflake, which is constructed via an infinite sequence of iterations. A decoration like this would look fantastic on your Christmas tree, and whilst you gaze at it, why not consider how to work out the length of its perimeter and its area?  Understanding limiting processes like this is at the heart of mathematical analysis, where fundamental research is done by some of our pure mathematicians.

10. Cold at Christmas 

Most Brits think of Christmas as a time for soaring heating bills, but without cold energy we couldn’t transport all that food to the shops, support storage of drugs in healthcare or keep our leftovers cool in the fridge. The demand for cold energy is rising and we’re leading the way in creating a systems approach to tackling the problem.

Leading-edge research

Our research is trail-blazing in three key areas: advanced manufacturingresilience, energy and sustainability and science frontiers.