SOUE News Issue 9

Head of Department's Report to SOUE 2009-2010

Guy Houlsby

This has been my first full year as Head of Department. Although I have been in the Department a long time, the most interesting aspect of my new role has been to see the breadth of activities that are undertaken here.

Students' Achievements

The "Complete University Guide" 2011 published by the Independent rates Oxford as the best place in the UK to study general engineering, and this accolade is certainly borne out by the achievements of some of our students. There are too many to mention them all here, but some examples include James Dolan and Philip Sibson, second year undergraduates who both won RAEng "Engineering Leadership Advanced Awards". Sheeja Jagadevan, a second year DPhil student won a Schlumberger "Faculty for the Future Fellowship" to support her research. Susannah Fleming won a prize at the 2009 British Science Festival for a poster on her research on measuring children's breathing rates.

Research, Entrepreneurship, Culture and more

The diversity of activity in the Department seems to know no bounds, and one of the real pleasures of the Head of Department's job is to see a little more of the numerous things going on in it. The following almost random selection will give you just a glimpse of the sense of excitement in the Department.

This has been a good year for entrepreneurs. Last autumn Oxford Yasa Motors was formed, a spin-out from Malcolm McCulloch's work on novel electric motors for vehicles. Two of our graduate students, James Philbin and Mark Cummins set up "PlinkArt", which became the first company in the UK to be acquired by Google. Recently OxEmS was established - a company developing tagging technology for underground infrastructure, arising from a collaboration between Harvey Burd in civil engineering and David Edwards and Chris Stevens in the communications group.

Professor Yiannis Ventikos and Mr Bob Scott provided technical support for the "Ghost Forest" project. This involves a travelling art installation consisting of the massive roots of tropical trees. They were brought from Ghana for display in Trafalgar Square, before moving on to Copenhagen for the conference on Climate Change. They can now be seen outside the University Natural History Museum in Oxford (opposite Keble), where they will remain for the next year, and are already attracting much attention.

The Department has enjoyed considerable success in winning new research funds this year, with our Institute for Biomedical Engineering being particularly successful. This year has seen its establishment of the new Centre for Doctoral Training, as well as the start of substantial research grants supported by the Wellcome Trust, EPSRC and others. Dr Richard Willden, RCUK Academic Fellow in Marine Renewable Energy is leading a major project in the Department on wave and tidal power, sponsored by the Energy Technologies Institute.

One of the year's highlights was the Lubbock Lecture, delivered by Professor David MacKay FRS on "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air". A highly thought-provoking lecture was delivered to a packed Lecture Room 1, relayed to an equally packed Lecture Room 2 and also simultaneously broadcast on the web. During the past term we also hosted an intriguing Astor Lecture, delivered by Professor Robert Cohen from MIT on "Omniphobic Surfaces".

Dr Paul Newman has been awarded an EPSRC Leadership Fellowship, which will give him a wonderful opportunity to develop his work on autonomous vehicles over the next five years. He will also soon be taking delivery of the "Wildcat" test vehicle, crammed with computers and instrumentation. I am reassured by Paul that when it is being driven around Oxfordshire it will have a human driver!

Academic Staff News

September 2009 saw the retirement of Professor Rodney Eatock Taylor, who had been Head of Department from 1999 to 2004, as well as Professor of Mechanical Engineering since 1989. He continues an active interest in research in the Department as well as having a visiting post at the National University of Singapore. In October 2009 we welcomed four new members of staff: Professor David Limebeer joined us from Imperial College as Professor of Control Engineering, Dr Heiko Schiffter and Dr Gari Clifford joined us as University Lecturers in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, and Dr Budimir Rosic came from Cambridge as a University Lecturer in Turbomachinery and tutorial fellow at St Anne's.

During this year Dr Antonis Papachristodoulou, currently a Departmental lecturer, has been appointed to a University Lecturership in Control Engineering, and a Tutorial Fellowship as Worcester College.

Professor Martin Williams has been Senior Proctor during part of the last year. He will continue his involvement in the governance of the University at a senior level, as he has recently been elected to Council, giving the Department a useful voice in those quarters.


Many readers are familiar with the turbomachinery laboratories in the old power station at Osney. The move to the nearby "Axis Point" building, to be renamed the "Southwell Building" is now almost complete, and we are looking forward to opening the new laboratories in September. In these financially stringent times we have been able to make little progress with our plans to rejuvenate the Thom Building, but I hope we shall be able to do something to improve its appearance and function within the next few years.

Please do keep in touch with the Department, as we very much value our links both with past members of the Department, and with our many friends in academia, industry and elsewhere.

July 2010

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