Month: March 2017

Instructive report and Brexit

Even though this blog is read in more than 100 countries, surely nobody can be unaware of the furore about Brexit – the UK Government’s plan to leave the European Union.  The European Commission has been funding my research for more than twenty years and I am a frequent visitor to their Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy.  During the last decade, I have led consortia of industry, national labs and universities that rejoice in names such as SPOTS, VANESSA and, most recently MOTIVATE.  These are acronyms based loosely on the title of the research project.  Currently, there is no sign that these pan-European research programmes will exclude scientists and engineers from the UK, but then the process of leaving the EU has not yet started, so who knows…

At the moment, I am working with a small UK company, Strain Solutions Ltd, on a EU project called INSTRUCTIVE.  I said these were loose acronyms and this one is very loose: Infrared STRUctural monitoring of Cracks using Thermoelastic analysis in production enVironmEnts.  We are working with Airbus in France, Germany, Spain and the UK to transition a technology from the laboratory to the industrial test environment.  Airbus conducts full-scale fatigue tests on airframe structures to ensure that they have the appropriate life-cycle performance and the INSTRUCTIVE project will deliver a new tool for monitoring the development of damage, in the form of cracks, during these tests.  The technology is thermoelastic stress analysis, which is well-established as a laboratory-based technique [1] for structural analysis [2], fracture mechanics [3] and damage mechanics [4], that I described in a post on November 18th, 2015 [see ‘Counting photons to measure stress’].  It’s exciting to be evolving it into an industrial technique but also to be looking at the potential to apply it using cheap infrared cameras instead of the current laboratory instruments that cost tens of thousands of any currency.  It’s a three-year project and we’ve just completed our first year so we should finish before any Brexit consequences!  Anyway, the image gives you a taster and I plan to share more results with you shortly…

BTW – You might get the impression from my recent posts that teaching MOOCs [see ‘Slowing down time to think [about strain energy]’ on March 8th, 2017] and leadership [see ‘Inspirational leadership’ on March 22nd, 2018] were foremost amongst my activities.  I only write about my research occasionally.  This would not be an accurate impression because the majority of my working life is spent supervising and writing about research.  Perhaps, it’s because I spend so much time writing about research in my ‘day job’ that last year I only blogged about it three times on: digital twins [see ‘Can you trust your digital twin?’ on November 23rd, 2016], model credibility [see ‘Credibility is in the Eye of the Beholder’ on April 20th, 2016] and model validation [see Models as fables on March 16th, 2016].  This list gives another false impression – that my research is focussed on digital modelling and simulation.  It is just the trendiest part of my research activity.  So, I thought that I should correct this imbalance with some INSTRUCTIVE posts.

References:

[1] Greene, R.J., Patterson, E.A., Rowlands, R.E., 2008, ‘Thermoelastic stress analysis’, in Handbook of Experimental Mechanics edited by W.N. Sharpe Jr., Springer, New York.

[2] Rowlands, R.E., Patterson, E.A., 2008, ‘Determining principal stresses thermoelastically’, J. Strain Analysis, 43(6):519-527.

[3] Diaz, F.A., Patterson, E.A., Yates, J.R., 2009, ‘Assessment of effective stress intensity factors using thermoelastic stress analysis’, J. Strain Analysis, 44 (7), 621-632.

[4] Fruehmann RK, Dulieu-Barton JM, Quinn S, Thermoelastic stress and damage analysis using transient loading, Experimental Mechanics, 50:1075-1086, 2010.

Inspirational leadership

Leadership is about inspiring people; whereas, management is about organising tasks and resources.  In a organisational context, strategic leadership is about persuading people to move voluntarily, and together, in a direction that benefits the organisation; while, management is about dealing with the complexity of planning and processes.  The boundary between leadership and management is often blurred; though in my experience, people more frequently believe that they are leading when, in reality, they are managing.  Perhaps, this is because they want to make a difference; but, for most of us, leadership is really hard and requires courage.  The courage to be different.  To be selfless.  The courage to do what is right and not just what is easy.

It is easier to get involved in the detail of making things happen, of telling people how to do things; but that’s management and not leadership.  Leadership is about letting go and trusting others to make the right decisions on the details – having the courage to delegate.  There’s something about entropy in there and not over constraining the system, or under constaining it; but, now I ‘ve got to the entropy vector and that’s a whole different story.

Robert D Handscombe & Eann A Patterson, The Entropy Vector: Connecting Science and Business, Singapore: World Scientific Press, 2004.

Is the world incomprehensible?

For hundreds of years, philosophers and scientists have encouraged one another to keep their explanations of the natural world as simple as possible.  Ockham’s razor, attributed to the 14th century Franciscan friar, William of Ockham, is a well-established and much-cited philosophical principle that of two possible explanations, the simpler one is more likely to be correct.  More recently, Albert Einstein is supposed to have said: ‘everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’.  I don’t think that William of Ockham and Albert Einstein were arguing that we should keep everything simple; but rather that we should not make scientific explanations more complicated than necessary.  However, do we have a strong preference for focusing on phenomena whose behaviour is sufficiently uncomplex that it can be explained by relatively simple theories and models?  In other words, to quote William Wimsatt, ‘we tend to ignore phenomena whose complexity exceeds the capability of our detection apparatus and explanatory models’.  Most of us find science hard; perhaps, this is not just about the language used by the cognoscenti to describe it [see my post on ‘Why is thermodynamics so hard?‘ on February 11th, 2015]; but, more about the complexity of the world around us.  To think about this level of complexity requires us to assemble and synchronize very large collections of neurons (100 million or more) in our brains, which is the very opposite of the repetitive formation of relatively small assemblies of neurons that Susan Greenfield has argued are associated with activities we find pleasurable [see my post entitled ‘Digital hive mind‘ on November 30th, 2016].  This might imply that thinking about complexity is not pleasurable for most us, or at least requires very significant effort, and that this explains the aesthetic appeal of simplicity.  However, as William Wimsatt has pointed out, ‘simplicity is not reflective of a metaphysical principle of nature’ but a constraint applied by us; and which, if we persist in its application, will render the world incomprehensible to us.

Sources:

William C. Wimsatt, Randomness and perceived randomness in evolutionary biology, Synthese, 43(2):287-329, 1980.

Susan Greenfield, A day in the life of the brain: the neuroscience of consciousness from dawn to dusk, Allen Lane, 2016.

Slowing down time to think [about strain energy]

161-6167_imgLet me take you bungee jumping.  I should declare that I am not qualified to do so, unless you count an instructor’s certificate for rock-climbing and abseiling, obtained about forty years ago.  For our imaginary jump, pick a bridge with a good view and a big drop to the water below and I’ll meet you there with the ropes and safety gear.

It’s a clear early morning and the air is crisp and fresh – ideal for throwing yourself off a bridge attached to a rope.  The rope is the star of this event.  It’s brand new, which is reassuring, and arrived coiled over my shoulder.  A few days ago, I asked you how much you weigh – that’s your real weight fully clothed, at least I hope that’s the number you gave me otherwise my calculations will be wrong and you’ll get wet this morning!  I have calculated how much the rope will stretch when it arrests your free-fall from the bridge parapet; so, now I am measuring out enough rope to give you an exciting fall but to stop you short of the water.  I’m a professor of structural materials and mechanics so I feel confident of getting this bit right; but it’s a long time since I worked as an abseiling instructor so I suggest you check those knots and that harness that we’ve just tightened around you.

You’ve swung yourself over the parapet and you’re standing on the ledge that the civil engineers conveniently left for bridge jumpers.  The rope is loosely coiled ready with its end secured to a solid chunk of parapet.  As you alternate between soaking up the beautiful view and contemplating the chasm at your feet, you wonder why you agreed to come with me.  At this moment, you have a lot of potential energy due to your height above the sparkling water [potential energy is your mass multiplied by your height and gravitational acceleration], but no kinetic energy because you are standing motionless.  The rope is relaxed or undeformed and has zero strain energy.

Finally, you jump and time seems to stand still for you as the fall appears to be happening in slow motion.  The air begins to rush past your ears in a whoosh as you build up speed and gain kinetic energy [equal to one half your mass multiplied by your velocity squared].  The bridge disappeared quickly but the water below seems only to be approaching slowly as you lose height and potential energy.  In reality, your brain is playing tricks on you because you are being accelerated towards the water by gravity [at about 10 metres per second squared] but your total energy is constant [potential plus kinetic energy unchanged].  Suddenly, your speed becomes very apparent.  The water seems very close and you cry out in surprise.  But the rope is beginning to stretch converting your kinetic energy into strain energy stored by stretching its fibres [at a molecular level work is being done to move molecules apart and away from their equilibrium position].  Suddenly, you stop moving downwards and just before you hit the water surface, the rope hurls you upwards – your potential energy reached a minimum and you ran out of kinetic energy to give the rope; so now it’s giving you back that stored strain energy [and the molecules are relaxing to their equilibrium position].  You are gaining height and speed so both your kinetic and potential energy are rising with that squeal that just escaped from you.

Now, you’ve noticed that the rope has gone slack and you’re passing a loop of it as you continue upwards but more slowly.  The rope ran out of strain energy and you’re converting kinetic energy into potential energy.  Just as you work out that’s happening, you run out of kinetic energy and you start to free-fall again.

Time no longer appears to stationary and your brain is working more normally.  You begin to wonder how many times you’ll bounce [quite a lot because the energy losses due to frictional heating in the rope and drag on your body are relatively small] and why you didn’t ask me what happens at the end.  You probably didn’t ask because you were more worried about jumping and were confident that I knew what I was doing, which was foolish because, didn’t I tell you, I’ve never been bungee jumping and I have no idea how to get you back up onto the bridge.  How good were you at rope-climbing in the gym at school?

When eventually you stop oscillating, the rope will still be stretched due to the force on it generated by your weight.  However, we can show mathematically that the strain energy and deformation under this static load will be half the values experienced under the dynamic loading caused by your fall from the bridge parapet.  That means you’ll have a little less distance to climb to the parapet!

Today’s post is a preview for my new MOOC on ‘Understanding Super Structures’, which is scheduled to start on May 22nd, 2017.  This is the script for a step in week 2 of the five-week course, unless the director decides it’s too dangerous.  By the way, don’t try this home or on a bridge anywhere.

More violent storms

I made a mistake last week by initially publishing two posts.  My apologies for confusing you or tantalising you with the prospect of going bungee jumping and then postponing the trip.  We’ll go bungee jumping next week.  I postponed it because it’s a preview of the new MOOC on ‘Understanding Super Structures‘ that I am writing and there was a delay in publishing the registration page for the MOOC.

When I posted my comment about postponing the bungee jump due to rain, I didn’t realize that, the following day Liverpool would be battered by Storm Doris, with 90 miles per hour winds that closed the Port of Liverpool.  As I sat writing week 4 of the new MOOC, the wind was swirling around our house causing the windows to rattle; and, on the top storey of our narrow but tall house, you could feel the house moving in the gusts of wind.  Across the street, people visiting Liverpool Cathedral were hanging onto the railings as they made their way to the entrance, and the trees were being bent over to an angle that made you think there would be a loud cracking and splintering of wood at any moment.  Fortunately, the storm was short-lived in Liverpool and moved on to wreak havoc inland.  Bungee jumping would have been very hazardous!

The number of violent storms appears to be increasing and the graphic shows the number of storms in the Atlantic basin since 1850.  Although there is a lot of scatter in the data, there is a clear concentration in the last couple of decades of years with fifteen of more named storms, which suggests there has been more energy in the weather systems in recent years.  The primary source of this energy is the temperature of the oceans and atmosphere.  There is a good account of the development of storms cells in Manuel Delanda’s book ‘Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason‘, see chapter 1 – The Storm in the Computer, which is available via Google Preview.

The increased frequency of high-energy storm systems is a very apparent manifestation of climate change that is having an impact on many people.  Yet, some governments refuse to even consider the possibility that our climate is changing and that they need to lead our society in discussing and planning strategies to mitigate the impacts.  It reminds me of the saying, attributed to Henri Poincare: ‘To doubt everything, or, to believe everything, are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.’