EPSRC announces two major research grants into nanoscale flow modelling and systems research

Two major research grants have been announced by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). One will push the frontiers of systems research to understand how best to plan, design and invest in modern, sustainable and resilient infrastructure services. The other will aim to gain previously unachieved design capabilities through modelling flow dynamics at the nanoscale.

One of the projects, led by the University of Warwick’s Professor Duncan Lockerby, ‘Nano-Engineered Flow Technologies: Simulation for Design across Scale and Phase’, brings together researchers from Warwick and Edinburgh Universities, Daresbury Laboratory, and industry to investigate how nano-scale engineering flow systems can help respond to global health, transportation, energy and climate challenges over the next 40 years.

Standard flow system design tools do not work at the nanoscale, so industry has no way of exploring and optimising possible new technologies. This programme is expected to bridge that gap, so that the non-intuitive flow physics can be exploited to engineer technologies beyond any currently conceived.

For example, improving the fuel efficiency of marine and air transport is a strategic priority for governments and companies around the world, and would reduce the emissions that lead to climate change. Also, cooling high-performance electronics is a major factor in the design of the next generation of supercomputers. Two of the applications this research programme will tackle are evaporative coolers that can transfer heat from high-power electronics at a rate equivalent to cooling the surface of the sun, and smart nano-structured coatings that enable ships to slip through the water using less fuel.

‘Multi-scale Infrastructure Systems Analytics’ (MISTRAL) will be led by Professor Jim Hall, University of Oxford. This project is said to build on previous EPSRC investment in the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), a consortium of seven UK universities, which has developed unique capability in infrastructure systems analysis, modelling and decision making.

ITRC’s vision is for infrastructure decisions to be guided by systems analysis. When this is realised, decision makers will have access to, and visualisation of, information that tells them how all infrastructure systems are performing. They will have models that help to pinpoint vulnerabilities and quantify the risks of failure. They will be able to perform 'what-if' analysis of proposed investments and explore the effects of future uncertainties, such as population growth, new technologies and climate change.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s chief executive, said: “These programme grants will firstly help maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in the field of infrastructure design.Secondly they will boost our scientific knowledge of how flow occurs at the nanoscale so we can model systems more accurately and apply this knowledge to technical innovations.”