Thinking more clearly by writing weekly

In an echo of Henry Thoreau’s retreat to the woods around Walden pond, Sylvain Tesson escaped the ugliness of modern life and spent six months in a log cabin on the shore of Lake Baikal in Siberia.  He wanted to surround himself with silence in the wilderness.  He kept a diary ‘as a supplement to memory, to stave off forgetting’.  He describes how the act of writing ‘makes life fruitful’; how ‘the daily appointment with the blank page forces one … to listen harder, to think more clearly, to see more intently’.  I have similar feelings about writing a weekly post for this blog and being faced with a blank screen each week.  Sometimes it is a joy to order my thoughts and commit some of them to writing; other times it is a chore and a challenge to dream up something vaguely interesting to tell you.

BTW Teeson’s book was a pleasure to read and easier than Thoreau’s in my view.


Sylvain Teeson, Consolations of the forest: alone in a cabin in the middle Taiga, London: Penguin Books, 2014.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, London: Penguin Classics, 2016.

INSTRUCTIVE research relevance

The Southwest airplane accident last week has been initially attributed to a fatigue crack in a fan blade in the engine.  One of the reasons that this an extremely rare event is the enormous research effort that has been expended on the design, testing and maintenance of the engines and the airframe.  It’s an ongoing research effort to address the trilemma of aircraft that are safe, sustainable and low cost to build and operate.  In collaboration with Strain Solutions Limited, we are in the last year of a three-year project called INSTRUCTIVE which is funded by the Clean Sky 2 programme of the European Commission [see ‘Instructive report and Brexit‘ on March 29th, 2017].   The focus of the research is the development of techniques for use in the aerospace industry to detect the initiation of cracks in the airframe before the crack is visible to the naked eye [see ‘Instructive update‘ on October 4th, 2017].  Laboratory-based techniques exist with this capability and the objective is to transfer the technology to the industrial scale and environment – initially in structural tests performed as part of the design and certification process and perhaps later as part of inspections of aircraft in service.  So far, we have moved from the small components reported in the update posted in October, to a chunk of aircraft fuselage in our lab and we are preparing to participate in a test being conducted by Airbus later this year.

We are also planning a knowledge exchange workshop on ‘Real-time damage tracking in engineering structures’ on November 21st, 2018 at the University of Liverpool’s London campus.  The one-day workshop is being organised in collaboration with the British Society for Strain Measurement.  More details to follow – it will be free!


Image Credit: Powering the 737: CFM56-7 series | by Frans Zwart at  [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]