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Royal Academy of Engineering awards Senior Research Fellowships to two University of Bristol Engineers

High temperature fusion engineering

10 October 2019

The Royal Academy of Engineering has recently awarded three new Senior Research Fellowships and we’re delighted that our engineers, Dr Mahmoud Mostafavi and Dr Dinesh Pamunuwa, have been selected for two of the fellowship positions.

Focusing on industry-relevant research across the full range of engineering disciplines, the Academy’s Senior Research Fellowships enhance the links between academia and businesses with each of the prestigious five-year positions co-sponsored by an industrial partner. The scheme aims to strengthen the links between industry and academia by supporting exceptional academics in UK universities to undertake use-inspired research that meets the needs of the industrial partners and to advance and promote excellence in engineering for the benefit of society.

Dr Mahmoud Mostafavi from our Department of Mechanical Engineering has been awarded Senior Research Fellow in High Temperature Fusion Engineering. Dr Mahmoud believes that fusion energy is achievable in his lifetime and recognises that engineering innovation is needed to help harness the heat released by fusion to produce steam that can drive turbines to produce electricity. The structures required to withstand the high pressure induced by the coolant have high thermal stress gradients that cycle with the pulsation of the plasma. They are often made of dissimilar materials, each optimised for operation in a specific part of the reactor and then joined together using advanced welding techniques. Dr Mahmoud’s work aims to ensure the integrity and safety of the structures, to help make commercial fusion energy viable.

He says: “I always wanted to see how things work, taking things apart and seeing how all the bits and pieces work! In recent years, two Royal Academy of Engineering Fellows have had the most influence on me: my PhD supervisor Professor David Smith, who sadly passed away a few years ago, and more recently Professor David Knowles, who taught me everything I know about high temperature engineering. Doing this work, with the goal of unlimited green energy for humanity, makes me feel I can make a difference.”

Dr Dinesh Pamunuwa from our Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering has been awarded Senior Research Fellow in Zero-Leakage High-Temperature Electronics. Dr Pamunuwa aims to improve the reliability and efficiency of nanoelectromechanical (NEM) relays. His projects include a carbon-based electrode contact material that acts as a solid conducting lubricant and novel designs for memory and logic circuits. He believes emerging paradigms such as the Internet-of-Things (IoT), all-electric vehicles and more-electric aircraft require a higher temperature capability and energy efficiency than conventional transistors can provide. NEM relays do not leak current while switched off and can potentially operate at temperatures over 300 °C. Electronics based on these relays could help to deliver the true potential of an IoT with integrated sensing and processing nodes using only scavenged energy. They could also enable more efficient electric aircraft and vehicles with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

He says: “I got into engineering because designing and building something and seeing it work thrills me, whether it is hardware or software. My current research topic has the potential to deliver an alternative technology to transistors, coming back full circle to relay-based computing, originally envisaged by Charles Babbage 150 years ago! This project is driven by a need that other technologies cannot meet and I hope it will contribute to a more sustainable society.”

Professor Karen Holford, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Research Committee, commented “the Academy programmes promote engineering excellence in the UK and enable strategic partnerships with industry. I am delighted to welcome these leading researchers to join us. Working closely with their industrial partners, each awardee will establish a world-leading research group in their field of engineering that will ultimately help to generate real economic benefits.”

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