Shape shifters

Radical new aircraft designs could become a reality thanks to a five-year strategic partnership formally launched today between the University of Bristol, the University of Oxford and Smiths Aerospace.


Aeroplane wings that change shape in mid-air may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but radical new aircraft designs like this could become a reality thanks to a five-year strategic partnership formally launched today between the University of Bristol, the University of Oxford and Smiths Aerospace.


The Smiths Aerospace University Technology Strategic Partnership (UTSP) in smart composites and metallics, or SMARTCOMP, will deliver new research in composites technology and lay the foundations for more far-reaching innovation over the longer-term.


Originally established in 2005 with an initial investment of £1.25 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Smiths, SMARTCOMP will have two broad themes of research.


The first will focus on approaches, such as using 3-D composites to make aircraft parts lighter, more fuel efficient and reduce manufacturing costs. This research will be led by Bristol with input from Oxford.


The second will centre on self-actuating composites and will be a joint activity by Bristol and Oxford, looking to create composite components that can actively change their geometry or shape in response to force applied internally or externally.


The collaboration will be led by University UTSP Director, Professor Michael Wisnom, together with eight other academics from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Bristol; and Professor Patrick Grant and Dr Stephen Duncan from Oxford. Currently the UTSP has three postdoctoral Research Associates (PDRA) and five PhD students carrying out Smiths-related research in Bristol, and a further PDRA at Oxford.


Smiths Aerospace’s goal is to build a centre of expertise at Bristol that will enhance its research capacity, generate intellectual property, and be a link to the business’ education, training and recruitment efforts.


A dedicated centre for work on SMARTCOMP has been established at the University of Bristol’s new Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS), opened today, where staff, students and visitors from Oxford and Smiths will conduct their research. There will also be regular joint seminars between the parties, increasing the opportunity for knowledge exchange. New ideas generated by the cutting-edge partnership will be developed into further proposals for funding from UK and EU sources.