Projects allow students to put theory into practice and develop important skills in planning, organisation and communication.

Third year individual research projects

Our students are tackling a wide range of real-world problems - here are just a few.

Student: Jonny Bewley

How tactile sensors could be used in cancer screening.
Project Summary

Student: Ben Boxer

How generative design could help make better bike components.
Project Summary

Student: Xin Tu

Computational fluid dynamics in aneurysm diagnosis.
Project Summary

Student: Frederic Mann

Cooling caps for new-born brains affected by oxygen starvation.
Project Summary

Student: Lucas Gadsdon

A hand tracking system to read the British Sign Language alphabet.
Project Summary

Student: Chris Stone

Using metamaterials for a neat approach to sound absorbers.  
Project Summary

Student: Matt Crane

Investigation into the failure mechanism of coronary stents.   
Project Summary

Student: Chengxi Zeng

Wind modelling and use of trees in improving urban public spaces.     
Project Summary

Student: Kanan Thakrar

Help at hand for patients with wrist tremors.
Project Summary

Jonny Bewley: Development and characterisation of a novel soft tactile sensor

Supervisor:  Dr Antonia Tzemanaki

Manual evaluation, such as during clinical breast examination (CBE), is a common medical procedure. It serves a vital role in the cancer screening process to regularly monitor breast health and reduce the number of patients submitted for more invasive mammography and MRI procedures. However, it has, so far, seen very little adoption of automated technology. Soft tactile sensors conform to the profile of objects and, through this contact, evaluate properties such as shape, texture and firmness. Integrating soft tactile sensors into medical procedures could improve the accuracy of examinations by providing a consistent standard. They could collect and monitor information throughout a patient's treatment.

This project developed a novel soft tactile sensor able to mimic human examination through an integrated pneumatic system and measure the deformation of its contact surface. The prototype device is smaller than any comparable existing sensor and experimental results demonstrate its ability to detect and resolve anomalous lumps embedded within a silicone matrix replicating human tissue.

Ben Boxer: Investigating the use of generative design to improve a mountain bike swingarm, in collaboration with Autodesk and Starling Cycles

Supervisor:  Professor Ben Hicks

Generative design is an iterative, automated design tool that uses machine learning to generate large numbers of valid designs to meet engineering criteria, including manufacturing and material constraints. This project explored how it might be used to optimise performance, longevity and serviceability of the swingarm on a particular bike model (The Starling Cycles mountain bike). The study used free body calculations, finite element analysis and stiffness testing of a sample swingarm. The results indicated load paths and stiffness characteristics enabling the set up of the generative design problem, to be evaluated using CAD models of other connected components.  After a number of iterations, the final proposal was a single DMLS stainless steel part, welded to the frame. This met compliance and safety requirements. The prototype was seven per cent lighter and would take around half the time to produce. 

The project demonstrated the potential of generative design in manufacturing and has attracted media interest. Read more in a blog on the Autodesk website

Xin Tu: Interpreting Flow in Cerebral Aneurysms

Supervisor: Dr Alberto Gambaruto

Computational fluid dynamics can help to assess the risk rupture of cerebral aneurysms. The project looked at blood flow using:

  • Wall shear stress to approximate velocity tangential to the aneurysm wall
  • Normal convective transport for velocity normal to the wall
  • Wall shear stress critical points to indicate flow impingement and separation for three patient-specific cases

Xin Tu found that stresses differ significantly between aneurysms on side-wall and ones at bifurcation and concluded that the analysis technique could be applied to the wider population. Her work was included in a journal paper.

Frederic Mann: Design and Prototype of PCM Cooling Cap for HIE Treatment

Supervisor: Dr Hind Saidani-Scott

Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy is a condition in new-borns where oxygen starvation causes death or lasting disability. Treatment is expensive and consists of cooling the subject to a mild hypothermic state. Phase change materials (PCM) store and release energy at a specific temperature and could offer safe and cheap treatment. Project aims:

  • Design, prototype and test a PCM cooling cap for first response treatment
  • Assess and adapt design aspects based on performance

A model head was made using a PVC mannequin head, tubing and a water bath, set to the core temperature of a new-born to simulate body heating. Using thermocouples placed on the interior and exterior of the head, cooling was recorded over three hours for three PCMs and cooled water. The prototypes were also designed to be washable and had a temperature sensor to warn of overcooling. 

Lucas Gadsdon: Development of a hand tracking system for recognition of the British Sign Language fingerspelling alphabet

Supervisor: Dr Antonia Tzemanaki

In the UK 151,000 people use British Sign Language (BSL), of which 87,000 are deaf. There are 1.4 hearing people using BSL for every deaf BSL user in the home. Few people can understand or use BSL and its teaching is not funded by the government, resulting in a communication gap. This project aimed to develop a system that could recognise hand gestures and classify them as one of the BSL fingerspelling signs.

Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) and flex sensors were mounted to the thumb, index and middle fingers, and were used to track the angles of the universal joint at the base of the fingers, and the revolute joint in the centre of the finger. This data was fed into a simplified kinematic model of a hand to track finger positions. A neural network, trained on examples of each sign-character, was used to categorise each gesture as a letter of the alphabet. The system determined the correct sign in 83% of cases. The project demonstrated that IMUs and flex sensors can be used to accurately determine two-handed gestures and that it can be used to extend its use, further, to recognise signs for BSL words.

Chris Stone: Designing a space-coiling metamaterial to be used as an acoustic absorber

Supervisor: Professor Bruce Drinkwater

Conventional sound absorbers are often large, bulky and expensive. In this project the aim was to create a block that attenuated more energy than a conventional absorber at a sub-wavelength scale. Space-coiling metamaterials force the wave to take a longer path than it otherwise would.

Using finite element methods for concept development, 3D printing for testing in an impedance tube and processing the data, Chris's use of 'fins' was shown to be much more effective than foam.  

Matt Crane: An Investigation Into the Failure Mechanisms of Coronary Stents

Supervisor: Professor Martyn Pavier

The mechanism of fracture through fatigue is a major concern for the coronary stent industry. The project looked at effects of the combined environmental factors such as surface abrasion, corrosion and local plasticity. A finite element analysis model was created to give insight into the stress state in balloon expandable coronary stents subjected to the loads of expansion and cyclic service.

As no suitable testing apparatus was available, Matt built a a fatigue test rig. Using fine wire samples of SS316L alloy, he found that coronary stents are subject to fretting wear caused by calcifications and corrosion due to the chemical makeup of blood. The samples were prepared with surface abrasion using a file and suspended in Hank’s solution, which has identical corrosive properties to blood.

Chengxi Zeng: Pedestrian level wind assessment with CFD simulation of trees

Supervisor: Dr Alberto Gambaruto

If people are comfortable in outdoor public spaces, they're more likely to socialise and take advantage of local shops and services. In built-up environments, tall buildings can create 'urban-canyons' where wind speeds keep us inside. This project used a CAD model to examine wind conditions in a particular site (Christmas steps in Bristol) and what improvement might be gained from additional trees.

Building height and topography data were used to build a simplified city CAD model. The analysis used a porous region approach to model the wind break effect of trees. Velocity distribution diagrams showed how Bristol's trees effectively reduced wind speed around pedestrian areas and suggested that further study on porous region trees would be beneficial.  

Kanan Thakrar: Design and analysis of a wrist tremor attenuation device for tremor symptom patients

Supervisor: Dr Antonia Tzemanaki

Patients with degenerative brain or nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson's, can suffer from debilatating wrist tremors. For these patients, everyday precision tasks can become difficult and the only medical treatments available carry a risk of side effects. Current tremor attenuation devices are limited and only decrease the tremor for specific utensils.

This project investigated the use of similar methods to reduce the tremor in the hand itself and stabilise the wrist, in order to make a tremor attenuation device useful for a wide variety of tasks. To achieve this, two systems were developed: a) the tremor attenuation device and b) a rig to test the device. Both the test rig and the attenuation device use two servomotors in an orthogonal arrangement connected by two motor adapters to support the desired motion. The attenuation device also includes an Inertial Measurement Unit sensor to measure the tremor signal and use it to counteract it. The signal from the test-rig was further analysed to see what impact the device had. The overall device was measured to reduce the tremor signal by 63% at a tremor frequency of 5.4Hz and 71% at 10Hz.

First year cup dispenser project

Read more about the project

Fourth year group projects - be a team player

Project groups solve open-ended problems that are often driven by industry or user need. It's a great way to hone project management skills including:-

  • marketing and communication
  • team roles and dynamics
  • interpreting requirements
  • technical specifications
  • design and manufacture
  • experimentation
  • costing
  • safety and performance evaluation.

It's also great fun! See what these past students have to say.


The Department holds an annual prizegiving ceremony. See the full list of awards.

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