Category Archives: structures

Slowly crossing the valley of death

A view of a valleyThe valley of death in technology development is well-known amongst research engineers and their sponsors. It is the gap between discovery and application, or between realization of an idea in a laboratory and its implementation in the real-world. Some of my research has made it across the valley of death, for example the poleidoscope about 15 years ago (see ‘Poleidoscope (=polariscope+kaleidoscope)‘ on October 14th, 2020).  Our work on quantitative comparisons of data fields from physical measurements and computer predictions is about three-quarters of the way across the valley.  We published a paper in December (see Dvurecenska et al, 2020) on its application to a large panel from the fuselage of an aircraft based on work we completed as part of the MOTIVATE project.  I reported the application of the research in almost real-time in a post in December 2018 (see ‘Industrial Uncertainty‘ on December 12th, 2018) and in further detail in May 2020 as we submitted the manuscript for publication (‘Alleviating industrial uncertainty‘ on May 13th, 2020).  However, the realization in the laboratory occurred nearly a decade ago when teams from Michigan State University and the University of Liverpool came together in the ADVISE project funded by EU Framework 7 programme (see Wang et al, 2011). Subsequently, the team at Michigan State University moved to the University of Liverpool and in collaboration with researchers at Empa developed the technique that was applied in the MOTIVATE project (see Sebastian et al 2013). The work published in December represents a step into the valley of death; from a university environment into a full-scale test laboratory at Empa using a real piece of aircraft.  The MOTIVATE project involved a further step to a demonstration on an on-going test of a cockpit at Airbus which was also reported in a post last May (see ‘The blind leading the blind‘ on May 27th, 2020).  We are now working with Airbus in a new programme to embed the process of quantitative comparison of fields of measurements and predictions into their routine test procedures for aerospace structures.  So, I would like to think we are climbing out of the valley.

Image: not Death Valley but taken on a road trip in 2008 somewhere between Moab, UT and Kanab, UT while living in Okemos, MI.


Dvurecenska, K., Diamantakos, I., Hack, E., Lampeas, G., Patterson, E.A. and Siebert, T., 2020. The validation of a full-field deformation analysis of an aircraft panel: A case study. The Journal of Strain Analysis for Engineering Design, p.0309324720971140.

Sebastian, C., Hack, E. and Patterson, E., 2013. An approach to the validation of computational solid mechanics models for strain analysis. The Journal of Strain Analysis for Engineering Design, 48(1), pp.36-47.

Wang, W., Mottershead, J.E., Sebastian, C.M. and Patterson, E.A., 2011. Shape features and finite element model updating from full-field strain data. International Journal of Solids and Structures, 48(11-12), pp.1644-1657.

For more posts on the MOTIVATE project:

The MOTIVATE project has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 754660 and the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation under contract number 17.00064.

The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Credible predictions for regulatory decision-making

detail from abstract by Zahrah ReshRegulators are charged with ensuring that manufactured products, from aircraft and nuclear power stations to cosmetics and vaccines, are safe.  The general public seeks certainty that these devices and the materials and chemicals they are made from will not harm them or the environment.  Technologists that design and manufacture these products know that absolute certainty is unattainable and near-certainty in unaffordable.  Hence, they attempt to deliver the service or product that society desires while ensuring that the risks are As Low As Reasonably Practical (ALARP).  The role of regulators is to independently assess the risks, make a judgment on their acceptability and thus decide whether the operation of a power station or distribution of a vaccine can go ahead.  These are difficult decisions with huge potential consequences – just think of the more than three hundred people killed in the two crashes of Boeing 737 Max airplanes or the 10,000 or so people affected by birth defects caused by the drug thalidomide.  Evidence presented to support applications for regulatory approval is largely based on physical tests, for example fatigue tests on an aircraft structure or toxicological tests using animals.  In some cases the physical tests might not be entirely representative of the real-life situation which can make it difficult to make decisions using the data, for instance a ground test on an airplane is not the same as a flight test and in many respects the animals used in toxicity testing are physiologically different to humans.  In addition, physical tests are expensive and time-consuming which both drives up the costs of seeking regulatory approval and slows down the translation of new innovative products to the market.  The almost ubiquitous use of computer-based simulations to support the research, development and design of manufactured products inevitably leads to their use in supporting regulatory applications.  This creates challenges for regulators who must judge the trustworthiness of predictions from these simulations.  [see ‘Fake facts & untrustworthy predictions‘ on December 4th, 2019]. It is standard practice for modellers to demonstrate the validity of their models; however, validation does not automatically lead to acceptance of predictions by decision-makers.  Acceptance is more closely related to scientific credibility.  I have been working across a number of disciplines on the scientific credibility of models including in engineering where multi-physics phenomena are important, such as hypersonic flight and fusion energy [see ‘Thought leadership in fusion energy‘ on October 9th, 2019], and in computational biology and toxicology [see ‘Hierarchical modelling in engineering and biology‘ on March 14th, 2018]. Working together with my collaborators in these disciplines, we have developed a common set of factors which underpin scientific credibility that are based on principles drawn from the literature on the philosophy of science and are designed to be both discipline-independent and method-agnostic [Patterson & Whelan, 2019; Patterson et al, 2021]. We hope that our cross-disciplinary approach will break down the subject-silos that have become established as different scientific communities have developed their own frameworks for validating models.  As mentioned above, the process of validation tends to be undertaken by model developers and, in some sense, belongs to them; whereas, credibility is not exclusive to the developer but is a trust that needs to be shared with a decision-maker who seeks to use the predictions to inform their decision [see ‘Credibility is in the eye of the beholder‘ on April 20th, 2016].  Trust requires a common knowledge base and understanding that is usually built through interactions.  We hope the credibility factors will provide a framework for these interactions as well as a structure for building a portfolio of evidence that demonstrates the reliability of a model. 


Patterson EA & Whelan MP, On the validation of variable fidelity multi-physics simulations, J. Sound & Vibration, 448:247-258, 2019.

Patterson EA, Whelan MP & Worth A, The role of validation in establishing the scientific credibility of predictive toxicology approaches intended for regulatory application, Computational Toxicology, 17: 100144, 2021.

Image: Extract from abstract by Zahrah Resh.

Most valued player performs remote installation

Our Most Valued Player (inset) installing a point sensor in the front section of a fuselage at Airbus in Toulouse under the remote direction of engineers in Switzerland and the UKMany research programmes have been derailed by the pandemic which has closed research laboratories or restricted groups of researchers from working together to solve complex problems. Some research teams have used their problem-solving skills to find new ways of collaborating and to continue to make progress. In the DIMES project we have developed an innovative system for detecting and monitoring the propagation of damage in aircraft structures, and prior to the pandemic, we were planning to demonstrate it on a full-scale test of an aircraft fuselage section at Airbus in Toulouse. However, the closure of our laboratories and travel restrictions across Europe have made it impossible for members of our team based in Liverpool, Chesterfield, Ulm and Zurich to meet or travel to Toulouse to set-up the demonstration. Instead we have used hours of screen-time in meetings to complete our design work and plan the installation of the system in Toulouse. These meetings often involve holding components up to our laptop cameras to show one another what we are doing.  The components of the system were manufactured in various locations before being shipped to Empa in Zurich where they were assembled and the complete system was then shipped to Toulouse.  At the same time, we designed a communication system that included a headset with camera, microphone and earpieces so that our colleague in Toulouse could be guided through the installation of our system by engineers in Germany, Switzerland and the UK.  Amazingly, it all worked and we were half-way through the installation last month when a rise in the COVID infection rate caused a shutdown of the Airbus site in Toulouse.  What we need now is remote-controlled robot to complete the installation for us regardless of COVID restrictions; however, I suspect the project budget cannot afford a robot sufficiently sophisticated to replace our Most Valued Player (MVP) in Toulouse.

The University of Liverpool is the coordinator of the DIMES project and the other partners are Empa, Dantec Dynamics GmbH and Strain Solutions Ltd.

Logos of Clean Sky 2 and EUThe DIMES project has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 820951.  The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Image: Our Most Valued Player (inset) installing a point sensor in the front section of a fuselage at Airbus in Toulouse under the remote direction of engineers in Switzerland and the UK.

My Engineering Day

Photograph of roof tops and chimneys in Liverpool.Today is ‘This is Engineering’ day organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering to showcase what engineers and engineering really look like, celebrate our impact on the world and shift public perception of engineering towards an appreciation that engineers are a varied and diverse group of people who are critical to solving societal challenges.  You can find out more at  I have decided to contribute to ‘This is Engineering’ day by describing what I do on a typical working day as an engineer. 

Last Wednesday was like many other working days during the pandemic.  I got up about 7am went downstairs for breakfast in our kitchen and then climbed back upstairs to my home-office in the attic of our house in Liverpool [see ‘Virtual ascent of Moel Famau’ on April 8th, 2020].  I am lucky in that my home-office is quite separate from the living space in our house and it has a great view over the rooftops.  I arrived there at about 7.45am, opened my laptop, deleted the junk email, and dealt with the emails that were urgent, interesting or could be replied to quickly.  At around 8am, I closed my email and settled down to write the first draft of a proposal for funding to support our research on digital twins [see ‘Tacit hurdle to digital twins’ on August 26th, 2020].  I had organised a meeting earlier in the week with a group of collaborators and now I had the task of converting the ideas from our discussion into a coherent programme of research.  Ninety caffeine-fuelled minutes later, I had to stop for a Google Meet call with a collaborator at Airbus in Toulouse during which we agreed the wording on a statement about the impact our recent research efforts.  At 10am I joined a Skype call for a progress review with a PhD student on our dual PhD programme with National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, so we were joined by his supervisor in Taiwan where it was 6pm [see ‘Citizens of the World’ on November 27th, 2019].  The PhD student presented some very interesting results on evaluating the waviness of fibres in carbon-fibre composite materials using ultrasound measurements which he had performed in our laboratory in Liverpool.  Despite the local lockdown in Liverpool due to the pandemic, research laboratories on our campus are open and operating at reduced occupancy to allow social distancing.

After the PhD progress meeting, I had a catch-up session with my personal assistant to discuss my schedule for the next couple of weeks before joining a MS-Teams meeting with a couple of colleagues to discuss the implications of our current work on computational modelling and possible future directions.  The remaining hour up to my lunch break was occupied by a conference call with a university in India with whom we are exploring a potential partnership.  I participated in my capacity as Dean of the School of Engineering and joined about twenty colleagues from both institutions discussing possible areas of collaboration in both research and teaching.  Then it was back downstairs for a half-hour lunch break in the kitchen. 

Following lunch, I continued in my role as Dean with a half-hour meeting with Early Career Academics in the School of Engineering followed by internal interviews for the directorship of one of our postgraduate research programmes.  At 3.30pm, I was able to switch back to being a researcher and meet with a collaborator to discuss the prospects for extending our work on tracking synthetic nanoparticles into monitoring the motion of biological entities such as viruses and bacteria [see ‘Modelling from the cell through the individual to the host population’ on May 5th 2020].  Finally, as usual, I spent the last two to three hours of my working day replying to emails, following up on the day’s meetings and preparing for the following day.  One email was a request for help from one of my PhD students working in the laboratory who needed a piece of equipment that had been stored in my office for safekeeping.  So, I made the ten-minute walk to campus to get it for her which gave me the opportunity to talk face-to-face with one of the post-doctoral researchers in my group who is working on the DIMES project [see ‘Condition-monitoring using infra imaging‘ on June 17th, 2020].  After dinner, my wife and I walked down to the Albert Dock and along the river front to Princes Dock and back up to our house.

So that was my Engineering Day last Wednesday!


Logos of Clean Sky 2 and EUThe DIMES project has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 820951.  The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.