Bristol Composites Institute makes two key appointments to enable new technology partnerships

The Bristol Composites Institute (BCI) at the University of Bristol has appointed two prominent sector leaders as Honorary Industrial Professors.

The BCI has appointed Faye Smith OBE, one of the UK’s foremost authorities on composite materials, and Mike Hinton, a World Fellow of the International Committee on Composite Materials.

Bristol Composites Institute’s new Honorary Industrial Professors Faye Smith OBE and Mike Hinton

Both appointees have provided significant support for the work of the industry-led Composites Leadership Forum (CLF) and contributed input to the 2016 Composites Strategy published by the CLF and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Commenting on the appointments, Professor Ole Thomsen, Co-Director of the BCI, said: “We continually seek new ways to encourage intellectual diversity and feel that these appointments will facilitate mutual learning and strengthen our ties to the national agenda.”

The BCI is a specialist research institute which launched in 2017. The Institute combines cutting edge fundamental and applied science with strong industrial links to deliver sustainable composites solutions for the benefit of society and the global community.

It is hoped the new Honorary Industrial Professors can strengthen the reach of the BCI’s research across different sectors, with a view to building new technology partnerships that can help solve some of engineering’s grand challenges.

Faye Smith OBE frequently engages with decision makers in academia, Government and industry, while Mike Hinton is a senior advisor to the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, supporting the development of its strategy, and an advisor to the government on technology needs and strategic opportunities.

They will provide wider benefits to the University through guest lectures for academic staff and students, as well as sharing their expertise with wider professional services teams via open talks on strategy development and technology road-mapping.

For more information about Bristol Composites Institute, please visit: Bristol Composites Institute | Bristol Composites Institute | University of Bristol.

CIMComp Hub Storytelling Workshop Review

by Umeir Khan

Creating a compelling and impactful story can be challenging. Fortunately, there are tools at hand to engage our audiences and craft a message that is pitch-perfect.

Following on from the success of prior workshops coordinated by the CIMComp Researcher’s Network, early April saw a fantastic turnout from current PhDs/EngD students for the “Storytelling for Engagement” activity, hosted at the University of Nottingham’s campus, and delivered by material scientist / professional storyteller – Dr Anna Ploszajski.

Many items of consideration were brought up: the type of audience you are presenting to, understanding their motivations and playing with the narrative hooks that drive the dramatic tension in a story. Unsurprisingly, a lot of parallels can be found in our favourite films, the ‘what if?’ that starts the journey for a protagonist to the ‘what if’ that sparks our own research.

Overall, it was a splendid event which helped demystify the route to effective research communication and impact. Highly recommended!

Mystery of moths’ warning sound production explained in new study

The workings of the ultrasonic warning sounds produced by the wings of a species of moth have been revealed by researchers at the University of Bristol.

Bristol Composites Institute (BCI) Academics Prof. Alberto Pirrera and Dr. Rainer Groh, along with Prof. Marc Holderied and Research Associate Dr. Hernaldo Mendoza Nava in Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol have successfully had a paper published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ (PNAS).

The scientists recently discovered that moths of the genus Yponomeuta (so-called ermine moths) have evolved a very special acoustic defence mechanism against their echolocating predators—bats.

Ermine moths produce ultrasonic clicking sounds twice per wingbeat cycle using a minute corrugated membrane in their hindwing. Strikingly, these moths lack hearing organs and are therefore not aware of their unique defence mechanism, nor do they have the capability to control it using muscular action.

In the study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an interdisciplinary team of engineers and biologists from Bristol show how individual ridges of a corrugated patch in the hindwings of ermine moths snap-through because of in-flight wing folding. The sudden snap-through of these features vibrates an adjacent membrane, significantly amplifying the strength and direction of the produced sound. Owing to its passive in-flight actuation, this sound-producing organ is known as an ‘aeroelastic tymbal’.

Marc Holderied, Professor of Sensory Biology at the School of Biological Sciences, explained: “Our goal in this research was to understand how the corrugations in these tymbals can buckle and snap through in a choreographed way to produce a chain of broadband clicks. With this study, we unfolded the biomechanics that triggers the buckling sequence and shed light on how the clicking sounds are emitted through tymbal resonance.”


The study’s first author, Hernaldo Mendoza Nava, who investigated the mechanics of the aeroelastic tymbal as a PhD student at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science of the Bristol Composites Institute (BCI), said: “Sound production and radiation is linked to mechanical vibration, for example in the skin of a drum or a loudspeaker.

“In ermine moths, the snap-through buckling events act like drumbeats at the edge of a tymbal drum, exciting a much larger portion of the wing to vibrate and radiate sound. As a result, these millimetre-sized tymbals can produce ultrasounds at the equivalent level of a lively human conversation.”


To uncover the mechanics of the aeroelastic tymbal, Hernando combined state-of-the-art techniques from biology and engineering mechanics. The biological characterisation of the wing’s morphology and material properties ultimately led to detailed computer simulations of the snap-through response and sound production that match recorded moth signals in frequency, structure, amplitude, and direction.

Rainer Groh, Senior Lecturer in Digital Engineering of Structures at the BCI added: “The integration of various methods across the sciences with a consistent information flow across discipline boundaries in the spirit of ‘team science’ is what made this study unique and a success. In addition, without the amazing modern capabilities inimaging, data analysis and computation, uncovering the mechanics of this complex biological phenomenon would not have been possible.”


The discovery will help researchers understand many other insect species with similar sound production mechanisms, filling a page of anti-bat acoustic defences in the book on the age-old arms race between echolocating bats and their insect prey.

Structural buckling and sound production are rarely studied together, despite being reciprocal phenomena. In addition, buckling occurs as a sudden large deformation which can be attractive as a shape-changing mechanism in the field of morphing structures, such as in the aerospace industry, where engineers are looking to optimise the aerodynamic performance of wings.

Alberto Pirrera, Professor of Nonlinear Structural Mechanics at the BCI, concluded: “In the realm of engineering design, nonlinear elastic responses, such as buckling and snap-through instabilities, have traditionally been perceived as failure modes to be avoided. In our research, we have been advocating a paradigm shift and have demonstrated that buckling events can be strategically leveraged to imbue structures with smart functionality or enhanced mass-efficiency. Yponomeuta’s aeroelastic tymbal embodies the concept of beneficial nonlinearity.

“The natural world, once again, serves as a source of inspiration.”



The research team anticipates that through bioinspiration, aeroelastic tymbals will encourage novel developments in the context of morphing structures, acoustic structural monitoring and soft robotics.



Buckling-induced sound production in the aeroelastic tymbals of Yponomeuta ( by Hernaldo Mendoza Nava, Marc Holderied, Alberto Pirrera and Rainer Groh in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.


You can also list to episode  ‘This week in science: moths’ anti-bat signal, fish who count and GMO crops at home : NPR‘ published February 8 2024 on the NPR Podcast.

Engineering Doctorates in Composite Materials, Sustainability and Manufacture





Opportunity for doctoral studies at Bristol Composites Institute and National Composites Centre.

Type of award Engineering Doctorate

Department Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Research group BCI

Scholarship Details An enhanced stipend of £24,917 for 2024/25, a fee waiver and generous research financial support for the successful candidates.

Duration 4 years

Eligibility Home/EU (UK settled status) with permanent UK residency

Start Date Flexible from October 2024

The NCC has supported the Industrial Doctorate Centre (IDC) in Composites Manufacture for many years. We are now seeking high calibre candidates to join our IDC and take up one of three new studentships. You will be based at the National Composites Centre (NCC) and will work on pre-commercial, yet industrially focused, cutting-edge research, whilst following a taught programme at University of Bristol.

We are seeking highly motivated and committed individuals with an eye on the future, who are interested in conducting stimulating and essential industrial research and have a passion for finding sustainable solutions.

We are offering two EngD projects that focus on ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). Interest in CMCs is gathering pace because of their lightweight properties and ability to withstand extreme temperatures applications such as fusion energy, hypersonic flight and space vehicles. There are many challenges in producing components from these materials, so the two projects seek to develop new and exciting manufacturing procedures for the future:

Automated fibre deposition (AFP) of non-oxide CMCs

  • State of the art research on investigating automation manufacturing with CMCs using AFP technology to minimise costs and create more consistent materials.
  • NCC have previously demonstrated AFP deposition of oxide CMCs, but non-oxide CMCs significant technical challenges.
  • The EngD project will focus on formulating and testing a new non-oxide material that will be a UK first to be used in an AFP process.
  • The non-oxide material will be capable of operating at temperatures of around 3000 oC.
  • The outcome will be new manufacturing procedure that will have wide ranging impact in industry.
  • As the successful candidate, your interest in materials science and automation will unlock doors to next-generation applications in renewable energy and beyond.

Compression Moulding of CMCs

  • Compression moulding is a cost-effective manufacturing method which can produce complex shapes not achievable with other manufacturing processes.
  • The EngD project will investigate new approaches to compression moulding to produce component that can withstand ultra-high temperatures.
  • The research will result in methodologies to produce components that can go above temperatures that are achievable with current metallic materials.
  • The outcome will be a new manufacturing process to rapidly produce CMC components.
  • As the successful candidate, you will have an appetite for how hands-on materials research can expose new opportunities for UK industry.

We are also offering an EngD project that will provide a means to decarbonise future aviation:

Cryogenic composites for hydrogen storage

  • Hydrogen must be stored as a liquid to achieve the energy density needed for many aircraft applications.
  • Composites have the advantage of being lightweight and strong for this use, but their application at low temperature is restricted.
  • The EngD project will focus on finding the most viable solution for composites in hydrogen storage.
  • The performance of different materials produced by a range of manufacturing processes will be investigated at low temperature.
  • Novel methods of material characterisation at low temperatures will be developed and exploited in storage vessel design.
  • As the successful candidate, your interest in brand new, developmental testing methods will be used as the basis for design and certification of the future hydrogen economy.

Candidate Requirements

Applicants must hold/achieve a minimum a 2:1 MEng or merit at Masters level or equivalent in engineering, physics or chemistry. Applicants without a master’s qualification may be considered on an exceptional basis, provided they hold a first-class undergraduate degree. Please note, acceptance will also depend on evidence of readiness to pursue a research degree and performance at interview.

To apply please complete and submit this online form and send your CV and transcript of results to

Closing date:  12th February 2024.

Balancing Environmental and Socioeconomic Sustainability: A Case Study on Heat Pumps and the Path to Net Zero for Engineering Education

We recently published a case study on the feasibility of heat pumps to reach net zero in the Engineering Professor’s Council (EPC) ethics toolkit, which is available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.1 The EPC is a representative body that provides a range of toolkits with resources designed to help educators and trainers integrate aspects including sustainability, ethics, and enterprise into teaching.  

Engineering is key to technological, economic, and societal progress and plays a vital role in moving towards a sustainable future. We have a significant challenge in engineering education: the tendency to view engineering as a purely technical discipline within an apolitical and acultural bubble. However, collaborations involving multiple stakeholders – industry, governments, consumers – are vital to drive change and achieve effective sustainable development by setting policies and incentives that encourage growth and adoption of low-impact technologies. It is important our engineers of the future are aware of our wider professional responsibilities including the social, economic, and cultural context in which they operate.  

Figure 2: AI-generated image illustrating the competition between new and old heating technologies. 2 

This case study was designed to integrate the socioeconomic aspects of sustainability into the engineering challenge of sustainable heating in the UK. Heating is currently responsible for one-third of the UK’s annual carbon footprint, of which 17 % is associated with space heating of homes – comparable to the contribution of petrol and diesel cars.3 Heat pumps are a potential alternative to natural gas boilers, particularly for domestic heating. A heat pump receives heat (from the air, ground, or water) and work (in the form of electricity to a compressor) and then outputs the heat to a hot reservoir (the building you are heating). Worldwide adoption of heat pumps is growing rapidly with the UK Government pledging to increase the number of heat pumps installed to over 600,000 per year by 2028.4 

In this case study students participate in a guided discovery, applying their thermodynamics knowledge alongside discussions to explore the wider themes of sustainability. We have run a version of this study for two-years with undergraduate engineering students as part of their second-year thermodynamics unit. They navigate the need to balance performance, cost, and impact on the consumer. In a memorable part of the session students discover that the lifetime cost of ground-source heat pumps can equal or surpass that of natural gas boilers, due to their high capital cost and the current high cost of energy. This revelation around the increased cost of energy for renewables was a surprise to quite a few students who expected the renewable, greener option to be cheaper and lead to a shift in perspective.  

Prior to this, we ask students to select their preferred heat pump technology (air-source or ground source). The majority select the ground-source heat pump because it has a better thermodynamic performance. The interplay between the improved performance but high capital cost of the ground-source heat pump is used to draw out an important principle: that the ideal or most perfect solution is not always necessary for an effective outcome and that engineers often navigate a balance between performance and cost. Air-source heat pumps, whilst having a lower performance, have a much lower capital cost, installation footprint, and fewer constraints, and so are used quite effectively in practice. Alongside this, the differences in capital investment of these heat pumps allows students to consider how aspects of policy, primarily the importance of bursaries or subsidies, can make renewable technologies more attractive to consumers and increase uptake.  

Figure 1: AI-generated image illustrating the uncertainty around heat pump technology and energy prices. 5 


A final key focus of this case study is the social dimension of sustainability, particularly considering consumer needs. Ultimately, even if you offset the capital cost of a heat pump, it is the consumer who will need pay the energy bill and there is growing concern around the affordability of energy. In the UK, electricity costs remain closely tied to natural gas prices and are four-times the cost. Consequently, even though heat pumps can require only up to a quarter of the energy that boilers do for the same heating output, the financial impact on consumers can be comparable or even greater. This is especially important in the context of unstable energy prices and increasing energy poverty. The UK faces a real challenge in the quality of its housing stock, with significant heat loss from homes disproportionately affecting low-income communities.6 Indiscriminately installing heat pumps in properties that have not been properly evaluated or modified can lead to additional financial strains.  

Students really engaged with the different aspects of this case study and feedback has been very positive, which inspired the submission to the EPC ethics toolkit. The real-world applicability, workshop-style lectures, and link to wider global themes were aspects they particularly appreciated. Further case studies are available in the ethics toolkit and the EPC plans to release a sustainability-specific toolkit early next year.  


References/Further Reading 

  1. Rowlandson, J. L. Case study: Feasibility of installing heat pumps at scale to reach net zero – Engineering Professors Council.
  2. OpenAI. [AI Generated Image] Prompt: Generate an image of a heat pump and gas boiler in a boxing match. ChatGPT [Large Lang. Model. (2023).
  3. Decarbonising heat in homes – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
  4. Energy Security Bill factsheet: Low-carbon heat scheme – GOV.UK.
  5. OpenAI. [AI Generated Image] Prompt: An air source heat pump showing the uncertainty around the technology and energy prices. ChatGPT [Large Language Model] at (2023).
  6. Bolton, P., Kennedy, S. & Hinson, S. Fuel poverty in the UK. at

Bringing Composites to Street Youth Work

Crushing jelly in a mobile van parked on a street in Bristol? Finding the links between silica sea sponges and aeroplanes whilst eating toasties? Playing snap with composite cards?  Not your average day in Bristol Composites Institute… instead a new and enriching experience in the Discover Composites Youth Club on Wheels project!

The Youth Club on Wheels from Young Bristol takes youth work out into numerous hard to reach areas of Bristol.  The skilled youth workers and their large mobile van provide a safe haven for young people to come together, chat and play games. Equipped with wifi, a large screen and a seating area, the van is strategically parked where young people are likely to be – for example across the road from the skatepark, or in the centre of a housing estate.

Children being shown a composites based experiment

NextCOMP have been working with Young Bristol and University of Bristol Public Engagement specialists to co-produce a “workshop in a box” to enthuse and inspire the next generation of composite engineers. Funded by FUTURES, the project is a pilot, and aims to devise a set of activities including guidance documents which can be delivered to young people by non-technical specialists.  The project seeks to strike the balance of designing for accessibility in the environment while still being interesting and different, aiming to spark curiosity in the intended audience. The hope is that the “workshop in a box” activities could be offered to other youth groups such as scouts, guides, after school clubs and even schools.

From the outset, the project team worked to explore and understand some of the challenges of reaching young people in this setting so that activities could be appropriately designed. Numerous logistical challenges of space, transportation, quick access and ease of use are compounded by more challenges of unknown numbers and age range of the young people, potential barriers young people may have to educational activities that might feel too much like school, and inevitable distractions in the environment.

Children taking part in a composites-based experiment

As a result, we developed a range of self-contained 10-15 minute long activities which can be deployed at different points in any order, in the session depending on the circumstances.  The session includes a range of ideas from discussion-based activities through to very practical hands-on manufacturing and testing activities.

The “NextCOMP Crusher” used before in NextCOMPs outreach and engagement delivery has been redesigned for ease of use and transportation and remains a favourite – what’s not to like about making and testing composites made from jelly and pasta? We have designed a set of new “composite cards”, a deck of themed cards using which can be played individually or collectively. In a material show of strength we have created the world’s first “composites tug of war” activity from clay and household objects. Our latest ‘challenge’ is showing the impact strength of chocolate – with the help of our fantastic engineering workshop, we have developed a flat-packed pendulum test to show the benefit of liquorice laces in dark chocolate – what’s not to love about that experiment!

Two sessions have already taken place (Henbury and Speedwell) with two more to go, and we continue to evolve and develop the activities and the guidance documentation as we deliver each session and encounter new challenges and engage with different young people.

Youth Club on Wheels Young Bristol lead Shea Stew said “This is an absolutely awesome project with well thought out activities, fun and to the point.. It makes science more obtainable for these young people.. The young people are getting something different out of it in the sense that they are learning and thinking about materials and the science behind [them].  Feedback from young people has been great, with young people who don’t like school having really enjoyed the activities and reporting back that they have since been paying more attention in science lessons.

Prof Richard Trask commented, “What an amazing experience… talking about the world around us to highly energised and inquisitive minds. Working with Young Bristol has been inspiring. I have learnt so much and continue to learn. The most important lesson is that there are plenty of budding composite engineers out there, we just need to find the funds and novel ways to get materials and engineering out into the community…”

For more details or any queries about the project contact Jo Gildersleve, NextCOMP Project Manager on

BCI Industry Advisory Board

The BCI’s biannual Industry Advisory Board took place on Friday 17th November. This meeting’s aim was to build on past discussions which have contributed the new BCI Strategy and to focus on, ‘How to work effectively with industry’.

Prior to gathering, all industry members were requested to complete a survey around collaboration and engagement with the University of Bristol – if you are also interested in sending us your views the survey can be found here:

Discussion focussed around the importance of open communication and the mutual benefit that can be achieved from collaborations between industry and academia. Following feedback around items that would be useful to industry, the BCI looks forward to creating an a calendar to show opportunities for engagement across the year and to map all technical activities within the Institute. Watch this space!

We look forward to our next meeting in late springtime 2024 and continue to listen closely to our IAB as we work toward implementing our Institute Strategy.

2023 BCI & NCC Annual Conference

The Bristol Composites Institute (BCI) and National Composites Centre (NNC) recently hosted their joint annual conference at Wills Hall Conference Centre in Bristol. If you missed out this year, then a recording of the BCI & NCC introductions, Technical Presentations and the Keynote Lecture are available to view on the BCI Youtube Channel.

Matt Scott from National Composites Centre presenting in front of a screen

The focus of the event was on future applications of composite materials, through industry focussed innovation. We were at capacity with nearly 200 attendees, for an array of technical presentations and thought-provoking discussions. There were presentations from BCI and NCC on Sustainable and Natural Materials, CMC’s for High Temperature Applications and Future Structures – how composites can be redesigned to unlock function and performance.

This was followed by an insightful keynote lecture from Alison Green at Vertical Aerospace titled “How composites will help disrupt the future of air travel”.

A seated audience watching a presentation

We finished the day with a panel session which focused on 4 key areas:

  • Challenges for new sustainable materials
  • How to create a level playing field for LCA of materials?
  • UK competitiveness in new materials
  • Reduction of product development costs



The panel session was chaired by Mike Hinton of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, with an expert panel sharing their knowledge; Faye Smith (Avalon Consultancy Services), Jon Meegan (Solvay), Fabrizio Scarpa (BCI), Marcus Walls-Bruck (NCC), Lourens Blok (Lineat), Jonathan Fuller (NCC) and Alison Green (Vertical Aerospace).

A seated panel session facing an audience

PDRA Corner: How to become a reviewer of peer-reviewed journals

One of the ways to enhance PDRAs’ academic skills and contribute to their field is to become a reviewer of peer-reviewed journals. Reviewing papers can help you improve your own writing and research skills, expand your network, and contribute to the scientific community, as well as keep you updated on the latest developments in your area of interest. However, becoming a reviewer is not always easy, especially for PDRAs who may have limited experience and exposure. This communication aims to provide some guidance and tips for PDRAs who want to take on this role and benefit from it.

  1. Identify the journals that match your expertise and interests. You can use online databases, such as Scopus or Web of Science, to find journals that publish papers in your field. You can also check the websites of the journals and look at their aims and scope, editorial board, and recent publications.
  2. Register as a potential reviewer on the journal’s website. Most journals have an online system where you can create a profile and indicate your areas of expertise, research interests, and availability. You can also upload your CV or link to your Google Scholar profile to showcase your publications and qualifications. You can also participate as a volunteer. For more information, hub ( is available as a reference. Most potential reviewers register and engage in activities as peer reviewers through the hub (
  3. Contact the editors or editorial assistants of the journals. You can send them an email introducing yourself and expressing your interest in reviewing papers for their journal. You can also attach your CV or a list of your publications and mention some topics or keywords that you are familiar with. Be polite and professional in your communication and follow up if you don’t hear back from them in a reasonable time.
  4. Accept invitations to review papers that match your expertise and availability. Once you are registered as a potential reviewer, you may receive invitations from the editors or editorial assistants to review papers that have been submitted to their journal. You should respond to these invitations as soon as possible and let them know if you can accept or decline the request. If you accept, you should also check the deadline and the guidelines for reviewers provided by the journal.
  5. Provide constructive and timely feedback on the papers you review. When you review a paper, you should read it carefully and critically, evaluate its originality, quality, clarity, and relevance, and write a detailed report with your comments and recommendations. You should be respectful and courteous to the authors and avoid any personal or biased remarks. You should also adhere to the deadline and submit your report on time.


Becoming a reviewer for peer-reviewed journals can be a rewarding experience for PDRAs who want to enhance their academic profile and skills. By following these tips, you can increase your chances of getting invited to review papers and provide valuable feedback to the authors and editors.

For more information, feel free to contact BCI internal newsletter team at