Article - Issue 52, September 2012

Human-powered submarines; Millennium Technology Prize; Technology Horizons Award; Bright opening start; UK-China energy storage report; Physics and engineering signs; Preventing bone fractures

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The Minerva team prepares to race in the European International Submarine Races. The competition is organised by The Institute of Marine Science, Engineering and Technology and sponsored by Atlas Elektronik, James Fisher and The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust, among others

The Minerva team prepares to race in the European International Submarine Races. The competition is organised by The Institute of Marine Science, Engineering and Technology and sponsored by Atlas Elektronik, James Fisher and The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust, among others


A new human-powered submarine world record was broken at the inaugural European International Submarine Races, which took place at QinetiQ’s Ocean Basin in Gosport in June 2012. Omer 8, a submarine built by the École de Technologie Supérieure, of Montréal, Canada, travelled at 3.6 metres per second over a designated 13 m section of the course.

Following the pattern of the long-running American races, 58 engineering students from six university teams designed and raced human-powered submarines. Each submarine was pedalled underwater by a pilot wearing scuba gear and the submarines were not allowed to use motors, wheels, friction from the bottom of the tank, or any other means of propulsion.

Working within these constraints, teams from the US, Canada and UK conducted research and used computer modelling software to optimise the shape of the craft to reduce drag and increase manoeuvrability. From their CAD designs, they built foam and plywood moulds and cast the hulls of the submarines in fibreglass.

Teams then fitted components to their hulls. The simplest submarines used a set of bicycle cranks, fixed into the sub on a support column, with a bevel gearbox driven by a chain. Propellers were then driven by a shaft supported by a set of bearings fastened either to a shaft log, or directly to the hull. Control systems ranged from simple joysticks and bicycle brake cables to sophisticated electronic systems, sometimes even computer controlled.

Prizes were awarded for speed, agility, innovation and communication, and the top prize was awarded for a combined effort of all four elements. The UK was represented by a team from the University of Bath. Their craft, the Minerva, was placed third overall and won a prize for best poster presentation.

The next European races are scheduled for June 2014, and more information is available at

Dr Yamanaka and Linus Torvalds

Dr Yamanaka and Linus Torvalds


The €1.2 million Millennium Technology Prize is awarded by Technology Academy Finland every two years to individuals who have created a technological innovation that significantly improves the quality of human life. World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee won the inaugural award in 2004.

This year, for the first time, the prize was shared by two winners: Linus Torvalds, the software engineer behind Linux, and Dr Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist who has developed a new method to create stem cells.

Finnish-American software engineer Linus Torvalds, Chief Architect and Coordinator of the Linux Kernel Development Project, has been recognised for his creation of an open source operating system for computers, which led to the widely used Linux kernel. The free availability of the software on the Web enabled rapid development of the operating system, and the kernel is one of the world’s largest cooperative software projects ever. When it was launched in 1991 by Torvalds, the Linux kernel consisted of about 10,000 lines of code and now has almost 15 million lines.

Today, millions of people use Linux to run their computers, smartphones and digital video recorders, demonstrating the impact of Torvald’s software in terms of shared development, networking and the open nature of the web as well as making Linux accessible to so many people.

Dr Yamanaka won the prize in recognition of a new, ethically sustainable method of developing induced pluripotent stem calls for medical research, which crucially does not rely on the controversial use of embryonic stem cells. Scientists all over the world are making progress in medical drug testing and research using Dr Yamanaka’s methods. His work should contribute to the successful growth of implant tissues for clinical surgery and the fighting of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

See more at

From l-r: Abraham Emdon, Peter Fouquet and Cole Soutter

From l-r: Abraham Emdon, Peter Fouquet and Cole Soutter


The annual Bosch Technology Horizons award is an essay competition for young people aged 14 to 24, which aims to raise the profile of engineering and technology. Peter Fouquet, President of Bosch in the UK, presented the 2012 winners with their awards in a ceremony held at the Royal Academy of Engineering in June.

Participants were asked to write a 750-word essay in response to one of two questions: “The introduction of environmental technology has changed the way we live in the last decade. Using examples, describe how it has affected human behaviour,” or “In 2012, London will host the Olympic Games. Describe how engineering, technology and innovative systems have helped develop the infrastructure required to host this historic event.” First prize of £750 in the 14 to 18 age group went to Abraham Emdon from Torquay Boys Grammar School. His essay addressed the impact of human activity on the environment.

Cole Soutter from Warwick University took home £1,000 as the winner of the 19 to 24 age group. His essay discussed the potential of sustainability initiatives and legacy learning schemes from the 2012 Olympic Games to benefit the UK. He also explored the wide-scale use of biometric security systems used for the Games, and their potential for terrorism prevention.

The event also featured a presentation on the importance of the engineering industry, led by science communication consultant Huw James. A number of Bosch innovations were also demonstrated and discussed at the event, where videos created by student teams from The Misbourne School in Great Missenden, at a workshop held by Bosch, were shown.

Further information about the Bosch Technology Horizons Award and details about the 2013 competition can be found at


A key moment of the London 2012 Games opening ceremony was when the torches were carried into the Olympic Stadium to light the cauldron. The elegant, articulated cauldron was the latest engineered creation to come from the multi-award winning Heatherwick Studio.

During the opening ceremony, each of the 204 competing nations had a team member who carried into the arena its own individually designed, inscribed and sculpted ‘petal’ made of polished copper. Each petal was in turn positioned as part of a huge ‘flower head’ in the centre of the assembled athletes. The petals were lit by the Olympic Torch before being raised from the ground in circular rows, attached to fine stems of steel which merged together to form the Olympic Cauldron.

It was the ceremony’s director, Danny Boyle, who recommended the studio, having seen their B of the Bang sculpture prepared for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. The cauldron was manufactured to Heatherwick’s design at Stage One’s workshop in Tockwith, North Yorkshire. The connection of the petals to the steel stems was very much like the plug-and-rotate action of a light bulb. They had to be positioned precisely in order to form the final collective flower-head, weighing 16 tonnes and standing 8.5 metres tall.

Designer and engineer Thomas Heatherwick is the youngest person to be appointed Royal Designer for Industry. He established Heatherwick Studio in 1994 which has been responsible for a range of innovative commissions in architecture, infrastructure and sculpture. The Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an exhibition that features some of the studio’s work including the design for the Seed Cathedral that was the UK Pavilion at the China Expo, a new Routemaster bus for London and the unfurling, rolling bridge at Paddington Basin. Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary, Designing the Extraordinary, sponsored by Ernst & Young, is open until 30 September as part of the London 2012 Festival.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming

Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming


One of the pressing global issues today is solving the problem of intermittent renewable power generation, to allow greater resilience in national infrastructures to deal with unstable power supplies and unexpected demands for electricity. Failure to invest in appropriate energy storage technologies can lead to dramatic power cuts, such as one which recently occurred in India which saw over 600 million people without electricity.

The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been taking a lead on this issue. Led by Professor Richard Williams OBE FREng and the Chinese Academy Vice President Professor Li Jinghai, they have cooperated on a series of workshops exploring the science, engineering and national policy requirements for developing and implementing energy storage technology. The focus has been on electrical storage relating to transportation and grid applications, in order to effectively integrate renewable energy sources into the grid and to create reliable energy distribution systems.

This work culminated in the release of a joint report based on two previous workshops. The report summarises recent technical and policy developments in the field of energy storage in both the UK and China. Key policy recommendations for both the UK and Chinese governments include developing more robust systems analysis and modelling, accelerating the deployment of energy storage technology, identifying funding pathways, and outlining potential future collaboration in this field.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded at

The sign for ‘nuclear power station’ © Scottish Sensory Centre

The sign for ‘nuclear power station’ © Scottish Sensory Centre


A glossary of 116 new physics and engineering terms has been developed in British Sign Language, as part of a project to encourage more students with hearing impairment to study these subjects.

The new signs use the five features of British Sign Language’s phonology – handshape, orientation, location, movement and facial expression. Before these signs were created, students needed to lip-read or use the much slower method of finger spelling words to communicate the meaning of their lessons. In some cases, teachers and students could create a personalised set of signs to communicate scientific concepts more quickly, but this created barriers for students wishing to continue their studies elsewhere. The new signs are universal and bridge this gap.

The project is part of the portfolio of work of STEM-DC (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Disability Committee), a collaborative group of professional bodies working on practical ways to improve policies, practices and provision for disabled people engaged in STEM disciplines. Core members are the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Institute of Physics, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society, Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Biology.

This group of signs complements the sign glossaries previously developed for chemistry and biology. The project has also developed, in British Sign Language, definitions for each term, which explain the meaning of the term or provide an example of how it can be used.

The glossary was developed by the Scottish Sensory Centre, based at the University of Edinburgh. Short video clips of all 100 signs can be viewed on its website along with the definitions, related terms and finger spelling versions of most of the concepts.

Sir John Parker, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, presents
Dr Alessandra Carriero with her Award certificate

Sir John Parker, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, presents Dr Alessandra Carriero with her Award certificate


Dr Alessandra Carriero, a Research Associate in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, has received the Royal Academy of Engineering Sir George Macfarlane award for her groundbreaking biomedical research into bone fractures and abnormal bone growth.

The award is in memory of Sir George Macfarlane, one of the founding Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering. It recognises the potential of younger UK engineers, who have demonstrated excellence in the early stage of their career – fewer than eight years since graduation from a first degree in engineering.

Dr Carriero, a biomedical engineer, graduated from Politecnico di Milano, Italy’s top technical university, in 2005 and went on to study for her PhD in biomechanics at Imperial College London. She has conducted cutting-edge research in six of the world’s top laboratories, submitting papers to peer reviewed journals and earning many prestigious awards.

Dr Carriero’s PhD research has investigated how the gait of children with cerebral palsy contributed to bone deformities, combining musculoskeletal and mathematical modelling to simulate bone growth. Her research helps inform clinicians on ways to correct or prevent abnormalities before they become debilitating.

While conducting post-doctoral research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US, Dr Carriero developed a novel methodology for investigating fractures and crack propagation. Using a multidisciplinary approach involving classical fracture mechanics, molecular analysis and scattering techniques at the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley (one of the world’s most powerful synchrotrons), she discovered how small scale molecular abnormalities can cause whole bone failure. Her research has generated valuable insight into the relationship between bones and disease.

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