AAAdmissions Blog

This blog is maintained by the Undergraduate Admissions Tutors in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol. Here you will find FAQ answers and news updates on our admissions process. For more information, visit the Department home page or the undergraduate admissions home page.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

What is aerospace engineering?

I was chatting to a colleague the other day - Dr Raf Theunissen, experimental aerodynamicist and provider of wind tunnel laser shows, whom some of you have met on our Wednesday afternoon admissions visits.  Raf was discussing the surprise expressed by students at the topics turning up in their final year research projects.  We always try and convey to applicants how broad an aerospace education can be, so here's a brief selection of surprises that may be in store.

Aerospace engineering is... vision.  Dr Theunissen was talking about a project to deduce airflow from video footage of shadows and clouds around aircraft. Full scale in-flight measurements of aerodynamics in action would be extremely useful in refining aircraft design.  We as humans are pretty good at spotting patterns in motion, but we need a computer to see and record that data for us on a large scale.  How?

...chemistry.  Some recent projects with Dr Lowenberg have looked at the impact of aviation on climate, and how different aircraft types and flying practices could mitigate climate impact.  This is much more complicated than just CO2 and requires the study of chemical reactions that occur at different levels in the atmosphere.

...zoology.  Besides wings, aviation to date hasn't adopted many ideas from bird flight.  That's changing though, as we develop new roles for aircraft like deliveries in cities and searching damaged buildings.  Colleague Dr Shane Windsor is running projects studying how birds fly and especially how they sense airflow.  This understanding will help us build robust small UAVs.

...geology.  Asteroid mining is a cool challenge, and don't knock it just because it sounds like sci-fi.  So was the phone I'm writing this on, once.  Dr Lucy Berthoud ran a project asking if it made any real sense, and that depends on the resources you expect to find there and what you propose to do with them. So what's in an asteroid?

...origami.  Composite materials have great potential for aerospace and our ACCIS researchers are leading many of these developments.  Your basic composite has layers of straight fibres in different directions, or perhaps woven fibres, but what about folding?  Origami teaches us how simple folds in flat sheets can create structure and interconnections.  Our staff are looking at how these ideas can be exploited in future composites.

I could go on about robotics (and I do - that's my own speciality) and countless other interests of our staff.  Of course the things you'd expect are here as well: aerodynamics, structures, controls, design.  But you're going to spend four years on this, so a little variety could go a long way.