Research with impact
Across the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering we are taking action to support social and economic change.
The University has been at the heart of our activity from the inception when Sir Bobby set out his hope to find a better way of clearing landmines.John Edees / Chairman, Find a Better Way
We work to deliver knowledge, skills and attitudes to address global issues such as sustainability, poverty and world security.
Here we showcase examples of the Department's work to address these challenges and to positively impact lives around the world, as well as some of the ways in which electrical and electronic engineering continues to change the way we live:
The Department places focus on enabling African academic and industrial partners to develop the local expertise needed to grow their economies. Examples include:
Education partnerships in Africa (EPA)
Joseph Mutale participates in the EPA programme, with the Department establishing a partnership with the School of Engineering at the University of Zambia to extend research through the development of structured final year undergraduate project modules - ensuring training is of the highest international standard.
Workforce development in Africa
Dr Mutale has also been actively involved in Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) activities in Africa after his appointment by the IEEE President to serve on the Ad Hoc Committee on African Activities in 2013 and 2014.
The main focus of the committee has been on technical workforce development, with key activities including promoting access to the IEEE Xplore digital library and forging closer links with industry.
Advancing higher education in Africa
The University, through Dr Mutale, has contributed to curriculum development, needs assessment and staff recruitment of the Pan African Institute for Water and Energy Sciences (PAUWES). Collaborative research links are expected to be established between the University and PAUWES in due course.
To minimise preventable losses in emerging food production in developing countries, the Department - supported by the Engineering and Physical Research Council and in partnership with Barefoot Lightning Ltd - is developing a very low-cost sensor system for close-proximity hyperspectral imaging of the early onset of crop diseases.
The research aims to prevent incorrect diagnosis of infiltration and spread of fungal pathogen that can have a major economic impact. Such misdiagnosis can lead to:
- scheduled pesticide-spraying where it is not needed;
- late spraying to minimise yield loss.
The low-cost tool scans for disease signatures - such as spectral and spatial signals - with the results compared against known values. In the field it can be put in the hands of field extension workers, semi-technical staff employed by agronomy companies, non-governmental organisations and/or regional government bodies.
Under the umbrella of Sir Bobby Charlton's charity Find A Better Way, the Department collaborated with the University of Lancaster, the Mines Advisory Group and security firm Rapiscan Systems to develop new technologies to accelerate the detection and clearance of landmines.
Metal detectors are currently the main method for finding landmines, but are unable to distinguish landmines from other metals. New technologies that can cut down on the time it takes to detect landmines, and to ensure they are effectively deactivated and removed, are critical.
We are investigating ways to use electromagnetics for a range of inspection applications, including formulating algorithms to describe the signals received.
The Department created a 'magic carpet' that can immediately detect when someone has fallen over and can help to predict mobility problems. The team demonstrated that plastic optical fibres, laid on the underlay of a carpet, bend when people tread on it and map, in real-time, their walking patterns.
Tiny electronics at the edges act as sensors and relay signals to a computer, which can be analysed to show the image of the footprint and identify gradual changes in walking behaviour or a sudden incident - such as a fall or trip.
We believe this technology could be used to fit smart carpets in care homes or hospital wards, as well as being fitted in people's homes if necessary. Physiotherapists could also use the carpet to map changes and improvements in a person's gait.
A team based in the Department, in collaboration with the Department of Materials and the Cancer Therapy Centre at the Christie Hospital, are using nanotechnology to enhance cancer therapy by exploiting the fact that high atomic number elements can interact strongly with radiation.
The team has developed new alumina-based detector materials that contain ultra-small gold clusters. The radiation interaction with the clusters generates energetic electrons that can escape and transfer the interaction energy to the detector.
- Bruce Hamilton
The Department is developing a family of robots that can operate in the air, underwater and both on and under the ground in a bid to explore radioactive areas.
Decommissioning and clean-up of the UK's nuclear facilities is a multi-billion pound task that will take many decades to complete. It's a job that involves a number of unique technical engineering challenges. To meet these challenges we take a collaborative approach, using fundamental and applied research to find the most effective solutions.
However, innovation also plays a key role too and off-the-shelf toy helicopters are often used to test a theory in the lab or if a dispensable method is needed in practice.
Insulated cross-arms, developed by our spin-out company Arago Technology Ltd, are increasing the capacity of the UK's electricity network, rapidly increasing renewable energy generation and resulting in lower bills for consumers.
Energy demand is growing but there is resistance to building more overhead lines, and the cost of underground lines makes them an impractical solution. Insulated cross-arms are an innovative device that enable increased electricity supply using the same pylons and allow new pylons to be smaller in size, reducing the visual impact of a new line.