SOUE News Issue 6

Head of Department's Report to SOUE 2006 - 2007

Richard Darton


Although the Department is now one hundred years old, it just seems to get more lively! The pace of change is astonishing, but then the opportunities are also tremendous. Highlights of the past year are described in this brief report, but other news about us can be found on our vastly improved website ( - comments to please, not to me!).

The course review is progressing well, though one is sometimes reminded that "changing a curriculum is like moving a graveyard" (according to Woodrow Wilson, onetime President of Princeton, and the USA). The new scheme will introduce second year examinations, and split third and fourth year papers into smaller (50%) units to avoid duplication and give students more choice; it will also improve the way we teach transferable skills. Undergraduates starting in Michaelmas 2008 will be the first to experience the new scheme.

Reviews and audits are an established feature of University life nowadays. In common with all other UK Universities we are currently participating in a national survey of academic research - the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. The University's research activity has to be written up and explained, and a vast array of data presented on people, income and outputs covering all the years since the last audit in 2001. The result will determine our funding position for some years to come, so has to be taken seriously. In February 2007 a 17-person team visited the Department to examine our teaching programme. The process is not yet finalised but we expect to obtain Accreditation by all the relevant Engineering Institutions.


Undergraduate Thomas Makin (Wadham) was selected as AMEC Best Civil Engineering Student of the Year at the national SET awards in October 2006 for his work on Timber Gridshell Structures. This follows his joint first prize in the Institution of Structural Engineers' Model Analysis Awards and second prize in the TRADA Student Timber Engineering Project. At the December SET for Britain event at the House of Commons two prizes were won by research students from Professor Lionel Tarassenko's Signal Processing group. These were the RWEnpower Award made to David Clifton for Early Warning of Critical Failure in Complex Systems, and the Rolls-Royce Commendation given to Alistair Hann for Multi-Parameter Monitoring for Early Warning of Patient Deterioration. Lionel's group had previously won the 2006 IET Innovation in Engineering Award for IT for the project Data Fusion Software for Early Detection of Patient Deterioration.

Veronica Vasco, Research Student with Professor Peter Ireland, won the 2006/7 Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship for women doing postgraduate work in Aerospace.

Dr Martin Booth who works on adaptive optics, was awarded an EPSRC Advanced Fellowship. Dr Constantin Coussios obtained an EPSRC Challenging Engineering Award. Constantin's Biomedical Ultrasonics and Biotherapy Laboratory, which forms part of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, will benefit from some £1.1 million of EPSRC funding over the next five years to investigate methods of targeting drug delivery by ultrasound.

Amongst the research funding obtained during the year, an unusual and significant award was that from the Department of Health, which selected the University's partnership with the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust as one of the UK's five Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centres. This £60 million Oxford programme, spread over five years, has bioengineering and medical imaging as important components, and will give a boost to our research portfolio in these areas.

The University's own John Fell Fund made major awards to: Dr Heiko Schiffter (laboratory for therapeutic particle formation), Dr Nick Hankins (laboratory for sustainable water resources), Dr Mark Thompson (equipment to investigate the mechanobiology of synovial joint tissues), Professor Sir Mike Brady (contribution to the Oxford PET/Cyclotron), Dr John Huber (equipment for in situ investigation of ferro-electric microstructure under load), and Professor Phil Ligrani (equipment for microfluidic separations of nanoparticles).

Andrew Zisserman, Royal Academy of Engineering/Microsoft Research Professor of Computer Vision Engineering, was elected to the Royal Society in recognition of his work in establishing the computational theory of multiple view reconstruction and the development of widely used practical algorithms. He is current investigating the problems of object detection and recognition.

Academic Staff Movements

September 2006 saw the retirement of Professor Martin Oldfield (Keble) and Dr Stuart Turnbull (St Peter's). Both made many and varied contributions, and Martin will continue some research in the Department, applying his turbomachinery expertise to the problem of generating electricity from tidal flows. St Peter's decided not to admit more undergraduates to read engineering for the time being, but Martin's fellowship at Keble has been filled by Dr Stephen Payne whose field of interest is cardiovascular biomedical engineering, and who was appointed to a University Lecturership.

The Department received a major award from Research Councils UK to part-fund a number of RCUK Academic Fellows whose posts provide an opportunity, after five years, for a transition to University Lecturer. The Fellows appointed, and their fields of interest, are: Dr Vicente Grau (computational imaging - jointly with e-Research Centre), Mr Marcus Leong (electrical power), Dr Cathy Ye (tissue engineering and stem cell technology), and Dr Richard Willden (marine energy). These Fellows will join for the 2007-8 academic year.

Professor Peter Ireland resigned in February 2007, to take up a post with Rolls-Royce.

St Hilda's College decided to permit men to take fellowships in the College and associated with a new University Lecturership in medical imaging. In the event, from a strong field of applicants, both men and women, we appointed Dr Julia Schnabel; St Hilda's has been a consistent supporter of Engineering Science for many years, and it is wonderful that they will now have an official Tutorial Fellow in our subject.

Two Senior Research Fellows joined us during the year: Professor John Fox who joined from Cancer Research UK, works on artificial intelligence and cognitive systems particularly in healthcare; Professor Ashok Bhattacharya, whose interest is in energy systems and nanotechnology, joined from the University of Warwick.

Several Departmental Lecturers left during the year to take up established posts at other universities: Dr Diganta Das, Dr Peter Martin, Dr Menxing Tang and Dr Jun Zang. We wish them all well. A Career Development Fellowship in offshore and coastal engineering was created jointly with St Hugh's College, and has been filled by Dr Jinming Huang.

An election was made to the new Chair in orthopaedic engineering, a 50/50 joint venture with the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. At the time of writing, the election had not yet been accepted.


Construction of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, part of the Old Road Medical Campus development at Headington, started in March 2006 and is progressing on-time and on-budget. Completion is expected in October 2007, and staff will start to move into the building as soon as it is ready. This continues to be a major project, with monthly departmental expenditure earlier this year running at around £1 million. Ken Shuttleworth, who led the design team, is one of the country's leading architects, and we are proud and pleased to be acquiring such a fine new building.

The University has now confirmed its approval for us to establish a new engineering research laboratory in the Axis Point building on the Osney Mead industrial estate. So in 2008 we will start transferring our wind-tunnel and other facilities from the Southwell building. The £4.3 million project will require careful planning so as to disrupt as little as possible the aerodynamics and heat transfer research that we do for Rolls-Royce and other sponsors.

Elsewhere we continue our rolling programme of refurbishing space to keep it fresh and modern. In the summer of 2007 the Holder common room - scene of much coffee drinking - had a makeover, and the computer suite on Thom floor 6 will be reordered. The ETB drawing office has been modernised, and CAD equipment has replaced the old drawing boards. With a rapid-prototyping machine in one corner, this modern design centre has met with universal approval.

Development and fund-raising

As part of our centenary celebrations, we are launching an appeal for contributions to the Centenary fund, whose primary objective will be the support of graduate students reading for higher degrees. We hope to raise enough money to support six graduate students on a continuing basis. This University is woefully short of such funds, which seem to be liberally available at competing universities. In this regard we are very grateful to the Medtronic Foundation for their gift of $150,000 for graduate studentships in biomedical engineering. We are also grateful to John Griffiths for his continuing support of the Fozmula undergraduate bursaries.

Last year I drew attention to the significant budget deficit confronting the department. The deficit situation continues, but similar deficits are incurred throughout the non-clinical experimental sciences, and we have been able to pursue our strategy of growth and innovation. The Department advances to start its second century in good heart!

Oxford, June 2007

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