SOUE News Issue 4

Head of Department's Report to SOUE    2004 - 2005

Richard Darton


Rodney Eatock Taylor demitted office as Head of Department on 30 June 2004, having been head for five very successful years from 1999. These years saw the Department obtain a top ranking in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, the retirement and recruitment of many staff, and the initiation of some exciting projects, many of which are ongoing. The Department is very grateful to Rodney for his leadership.

The next Research Assessment Exercise will cover the period 2001-2007 inclusive, and a survey of research activity in the summer of 2004 showed that we are in good shape. Annual research income to the Department from all sources is around £7 million, which supports a wide range of activity. Our top research rating is not only a huge reputational benefit to the Department, it also brings about £4 million of extra government funding annually - it is essential that we maintain or improve on the position. (Improvement is possible, since next time there will be a rating profile, rather than a single number.)

Teaching is the other major activity of the Department and in the summer of 2004 the Quality Assurance Agency published its Institutional Review Report on the University of Oxford. Engineering Science had been one of the five departments subject to detailed scrutiny, and received a highly satisfactory report. On the other hand, in the Guardian 2005 University Guide, although Oxford is rated best University overall, we are pipped to the top position in General Engineering by Cambridge, who score an extra point in the metric "job prospects". Members of SOUE might have a view on this!


At the 2004 SET event at the House of Commons, Dr Mark Kendall was named one of the country's top young researchers for his work on needle-free drug and vaccine delivery, and Moira Smith (JES), a final year student supervised by Dr Constantin Coussios, won a commendation. Sach Mukherjee, a third-year DPhil student supervised by Professor Stephen Roberts won the prestigious Fulbright AstraZeneca Fellowship for 2005-06 to work at the University of California, Berkeley on computational and statistical aspects of cancer systems biology. Michael Schwertner, a DPhil student working with Professor Tony Wilson won the Mathematics and Physical Sciences division prize for his work on adaptive optics. Dr Daniele Dini, a former research student and now post-doc in Solid Mechanics was awarded the IMechE bronze medal in tribology.

The Royal Academy of Engineering made Leadership Awards to four of our undergraduates, recognising their very high potential: James Hume (BAL), Anna Lea (WAD), Christopher Pritchard (ORL) and Matthew Scott (TRI). Mark Hunter (PBK) was a finalist in the Higher Education Academy - Engineering Subject Centre Student Awards 2004-2005, having written an essay addressing the question "What makes the best learning experience for an engineering student?".

Nor have marks of distinction been restricted to youth: Professor Eatock Taylor was made 28th Georg Weinblum Memorial Lecturer in recognition of his many outstanding contributions to the field of ship hydrodynamics; Professor Sir Mike Brady has won the Henry Dale prize of the Royal Institution for his outstanding work; Professor Richard Darton was awarded the Institution of Chemical Engineers' Council Medal. Professor Lionel Tarassenko and his research group and e-San, an associated spin-out company, won an E-Health Innovation Award 2005 for their mobile phone technology for monitoring diabetes.

In the Recognition of Distinction Exercise 2003-4 the title of Professor was conferred on Dr Peter Ireland, Dr David Nowell and Dr Steve Roberts, and the title of Reader was conferred on Dr Steve Duncan, Dr Alex Korsunsky and Dr Martin Williams.

Academic Staff Movements

Two new lecturers in mechanical engineering were appointed: Dr Tom Povey, and Dr John Huber; a Departmental Lecturership in Chemical Engineering was filled by Dr Peter Martin. An election was made to a new Chair in Materials Engineering: Professor Alan Cocks, currently head of Engineering at the University of Leicester, who will take up his post in January 2006.

One retirement took place during the year, of Terry Jones, who had been Donald Schultz Professor of Turbomachinery since 1988, and a member of the Department since 1960.

Other news

Dr Paul Newman, Departmental Lecturer, was one of the presenters of the IEE Faraday Lecture "Control Freaks? - how robots affect our world" which was delivered and simultaneously webcast in February 2005.

The Oxford Centre for Tissue Engineering and Bioprocessing was initiated, under the leadership of Professor Zhanfeng Cui. Professor Cui spent part of 2004/5 at the University of Minnesota, where he was 2002 J S Braun/Braun Intertec Visiting Professor.

The Royal Society published a memoir (Biogr Mems Fell Roy Soc Lond 50 47-59 2004) of Sir Derman Christopherson FRS who died in 2000. He took a first in engineering at Oxford in 1941 and later obtained a DPhil, having worked as an assistant to Sir Richard Southwell on relaxation methods.

Development and fund-raising

In December 2004 Lord Sainsbury opened the new Information Engineering Building (IEB), fronting on Banbury Road (see SOUE News Issue 3 for picture and description). This £12.7 million project, completed on time, now provides accommodation for around 100 staff and students. It is an architectural link between several previously separate buildings on the Keble Road Triangle, and a magnificent extension to the complex of buildings on this site. That opening ceremony can be regarded as marking the first step in our current development campaign. The IEB was made possible by a substantial award from the Government's Science Research Infrastructure Fund, and also a generous benefaction (£1.5 million) from the Wolfson Foundation for the Wolfson Medical Vision Laboratory. The balance (£1.7 million) was provided by the Department's share of money accruing to the University from the spin-out of two very successful companies, Powderject and Mirada Solutions. These were founded by Professor Brian Bellhouse, and Professor Sir Mike Brady.

The Bellhouse Foundation has made two significant gifts to the Department, to enable us to expand teaching and research in biomedical engineering. As a result, Dr Fred Cornhill, Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME), has now been joined by a full-time fund-raiser (Ms Molly Dixon), who is working jointly for us and for the Department of Clinical Pharmacology. Further developments enabled by these gifts will be announced soon.

Our two immediate fund-raising goals are, first, to raise some £25 million for the IBME project, which includes around £16 million for the building and fit-out, and some £9 million for posts. The IBME will be located at the medical campus in Headington.

Our other major priority is to raise funds for graduate scholarships. It remains a sad fact that every year, very able students who would benefit greatly from post-graduate training here, and whom we are keen to accept, fail to obtain funding from the scarce and fickle sources available to graduates, and must abandon their plans to study at Oxford. Once again, substantial sums are necessary if we are to find a long-term solution to this problem.

Our Advisory Board (Gordon Campbell, Professor Will Stewart, Professor Sir John Taylor, Dr John Forrest and Phil Ruffles) has been encouraging us to develop a plan for our long-term future, and to adopt coherent policies to realise it. Fund-raising is a key to this. Our experience with the IBME has shown that we cannot simply wait for Government or University to divert scarce resources to us - we have to be more pro-active at fund-raising ourselves. In this regard I am very pleased to be able to report a recent bequest to Engineering Science of £200,000 - from a history graduate! Over the next few years we will be developing our plan, and enlisting the support of our friends and alumni in helping us to realise it.

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