SOUE News Issue 8

Head of Department's Report to SOUE 2008-2009

Guy Houlsby

First of all, may I introduce myself, Guy Houlsby, as the new Head of Department. I have taken over from Professor Richard Darton, and am very grateful to him for all the work that he has done, ensuring that the Department was in very good shape indeed when I took over in July 2009. Richard will be busy over the next couple of the years, as he takes up the presidency of the European Federation of Chemical Engineering in 2010. I am not new to the Department, having worked here since 1980, so in fact I know many of the readers of this newsletter. I am a Civil Engineer, with my main interests in offshore problems. Most recently I have devoted much of my time to renewable energy projects, and have a particular interest in tidal power.


In late 2008 the results of the Research Assessment Exercise were published - a process eagerly anticipated in the Universities. The grading system used this time was a little more complex than had been used before, but Oxford was ranked second in the UK for General Engineering, with 85% of our activity rated as "world leading" or "internationally excellent". We have to acknowledge though that our rivals in Cambridge (a much larger Department) did exceptionally well, and have set us a very tough target to beat next time. We achieved some revenge, however, a few months ago when Oxford was ranked in The Guardian's survey as the top University in the UK to study General Engineering.

Our undergraduates continue to prove that they are some of the very best in the country. At the national SET awards in October 2008 Vicki Barker was named as Best Maritime Technology Student of the Year for her project studying extreme waves off the coast of Norway, continuing a run of success at these awards (for the previous two years we won the award for best Civil Engineering student). A team of three Keble students (Rebecca Threlfall, Tze Yeung Cheung and Ben Mather) won the Spring 2009 NECR Challenge. Jamie Darling won the Pulsed Power Award for his work on high power RF generation, and Jamie Curry won the inaugural Fugro GEOS award from IMarEST for his project on propagation of long waves.

It is pleasing to see our graduates going on to successful careers. Hanna Sykulska-Lawrence, a 2004 graduate from the Department, was named as the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year. Josh Macabuag won the ICE's Graduate and Student papers competition with his work on use of polypropylene straps to prevent collapse of adobe buildings during earthquakes.

We have a cohort of very talented and motivated postgraduate students working on a bewildering array of topics. The 2009 Cornhill Prizes for DPhil projects in Biomedical Engineering were awarded to Alistair Hann for his work on monitoring of patients in high dependency care, and to Alexander Rowley for work on investigation of the way blood flow is controlled by the body. These projects illustrate some of the very important contributions engineers are making to medicine, with our Institute of Biomedical Engineering being at the forefront of research. Our students have also demonstrated their business acumen - Yimin Zhou and Zhen Yu, the "Oxford Vision Team", beat 186 other teams to win the fourth annual China-UK Business Competition. Jessica Whittle was just one of the many postgraduates presenting their work at conferences - she won first prize for her presentation at the IStructE Young Researchers' Conference.

Dr Constantin Coussios has been elected as a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, and Dr Mark Thompson held the first Raine Medical Foundation Fellowship at the University of Western Australia. These are just examples of many accolades received by our staff over the year.

Academic Staff News

September 2008 saw the retirement of Professor David Clarke, one of the longest serving members of the Department, who had filled almost every academic role in the Department from undergraduate through to Head of Department. He will be well known to most of the readers of this newsletter. I am delighted to say that he will be replaced as Professor of Control Engineering by David Limebeer, who joins us from Imperial College in October 2009. In September 2009 Professor Rodney Eatock Taylor will be retiring as Professor of Mechanical Engineering, although he will be maintaining an interest in some research projects for some time to come, as well as taking up a visiting post at the National University of Singapore.

A number of Departmental Lecturers have joined us in the last year. Dr Stefano Utili works on applications of the "distinct element" method in geotechnical engineering. Dr Vito Tagarielli is working on composite materials and Dr Manish Arora on the use of ultrasound for therapeutic purposes. Dr Alex Lubansky works in chemical engineering. Dr Anja Drews, who was joint winner of the prestigious Arnold Eucken Award for young chemical engineers, will be leaving us in September to take up a full-time post in Berlin, after all too short a stay as Departmental Lecturer.

Three new University Lecturers will be joining us in October: Dr Budimir Rosic (Turbomachinery), Dr Gari Clifford and Dr Heiko Schiffter (both the latter in the Biomedical area).

Professor Martin Williams is currently Senior Proctor, which means that for the time being we are seeing less of him in the Department, as the University has the benefit of some sound common sense from an Engineer as Proctor for the fifth time in recent years (if I have counted correctly).


The opening of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, within the Old Road Medical Campus development at Headington, was announced last year. I can report that research there is now in full swing, with the build-up of activity there being much more rapid than we had anticipated. The latest success is the award to a team led by Professor Lionel Tarassenko of an £8m grant for research on development of "Personalised Healthcare" from the Wellcome Trust and EPSRC.

Many readers will be familiar with the Turbomachinery laboratories located in the Southwell Building (the old power station at Osney). The move to the nearby "Axis Point" building that will provide a much more modern and satisfactory base for the Turbomachinery group is well underway, but there is so much complicated equipment to be re-housed that the move will take most of the next year to complete. We are also currently advertising the Donald Schultz Professorship of Turbomachinery.

For many people of course the iconic building that represents the Department is the Thom Building - loved and hated in almost equal measure, no-one could accuse the building of being dull. It is, however, showing its age, and there are particular problems with the cladding and the facade. We are exploring options ranging from minimal repair through to complete rebuilding, but shall probably end up with a compromise involving recladding and some internal refurbishment. We shall try to retain the best features of the building, and also hope to improve the entrance area.

The Future

The Department has ambitious plans for the future. We recognise that we must expand to be able to compete at the very highest level, and are just beginning to shape our plans for the new directions we shall take. Of course Oxford is not immune from the worldwide economic pressures, and like others the University is feeling the pinch financially at present. This may affect the pace of change that we can achieve, but I am confident for the longer term.

Finally can I wish all past members of the Department, and our many friends, all the best. Please keep in touch with us, as we very much value our links around the world.

August 2009

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