The joy of collaboration: reflections of an ICASE PhD student

Charlie House with the BAE Prize for an Outstanding Research Project

Reflections from an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Industrial CASE (ICASE) doctoral student working with BAE Systems.

As I approach the completion of my PhD, and after being awarded the BAE Prize for an Outstanding Research Project, I’m reflecting on my experiences of the EPSRC ICASE scheme and the benefits of carrying out doctoral training in partnership between academia and industry.

During my PhD, I have been involved with the Intelligent Structures for Low Noise Environments project, which is a five-year EPSRC Prosperity Partnership. This programme looks to create new materials and intelligent structures that will control underwater noise, reducing its harmful impact on marine wildlife.

The project team includes BAE Systems, Lloyd’s Register, the University of Southampton, and the University of Nottingham, and funds a range of multidisciplinary researchers. This includes staff at the Centre for Research in Active Control at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research.

Good vibrations

My PhD is based within this team and is investigating the application of active control technology to acoustic cloaking. An acoustic cloak is a device that reduces the interaction between an object and a soundfield. In the same way that foam panels can be installed in a concert hall to prevent acoustic reflections, an active acoustic cloak can be installed on an object to prevent it from reflecting acoustic energy.

An example of this can be seen in the simulation results diagram, which show a birds-eye view of the reflected acoustic pressure from a sphere, with and without the acoustic cloak present (green-ish colours represent low levels of reflected acoustic pressure, whilst red and blue represent higher levels).

Simulation results diagram, which showa a birds-eye view of the reflected acoustic pressure from a sphere, with and without the acoustic cloak present (green-ish colours represent low levels of reflected acoustic pressure, whilst red and blue represent higher levels)

Simulation results diagram, which shows a birds-eye view of the reflected acoustic pressure from a sphere, with and without the acoustic cloak present (green-ish colours represent low levels of reflected acoustic pressure, whilst red and blue represent higher levels). Credit: Charlie House

The active acoustic cloak uses arrays of microphones to detect the acoustic reflections, and arrays of loudspeakers to cancel them out; in much the same way that noise-cancelling headphones work.

Acoustic reflections can cause problems in many environments, but especially so in the underwater domain, as this reflected acoustic energy can exacerbate underwater noise created by ships, potentially affecting or harming marine wildlife. Therefore, an acoustic cloaking system such as this could have significant benefits in reducing the impact of maritime shipping on the oceanic environment.

Bridging the gap between industry and academia

The ICASE programme has enabled me to pursue this research with support from both academia and industry.

The concept for the project was initially proposed by my PhD supervisors at the University of Southampton, Dr Jordan Cheer and Professor Steve Daley, who have been running the BAE Systems’ Centre for Research in Active Control since 2007, and whose guidance and supervision has ensured my research is successful.

Charlie House, presenting research at New Scientist Live

Charlie House, presenting research at New Scientist Live. Credit: Charlie House

In terms of input from industry, I have had regular meetings with industrial supervisors at BAE Systems, who have ensured that the research remains on track and relevant to their applications, as well as presenting me with interesting and novel engineering challenges to solve.

Working with BAE Systems has also given me a number of further opportunities that would otherwise not have been possible, for example to attend New Scientist Live 2019 to share my research with the public, and to take part in full-scale sea trials to test my research on real platforms.

The experience working with BAE Systems during my PhD has motivated me to pursue an industrially focussed research career, and I’m looking forward to starting full-time employment with BAE Systems in November 2020.

I will be continuing to work in collaboration with the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research and will be exploring innovative ways that active control technology can be applied to maritime applications, to reduce marine noise and protect the oceanic environment.

Top image:  Charlie House with the BAE Prize for an Outstanding Research Project. Credit: Charlie House

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