I had slightly surreal time last week. I visited the USA to attend a review of a research programme sponsored by the US Government and reported on two of our research projects. When I arrived in the USA on Monday evening, I went to collect my rental car and was told that I had been upgraded to a pick-up truck because the rental company did not have left any of the compact cars that had been booked for me. I gingerly manoeuvred the massive vehicle, a Toyota Tacoma, out of the parking garage and on to the freeway. I should admit to having owned a large SUV when we lived in the USA and so driving along the freeway was not a totally new experience, except that the white bonnet in front of me seemed huge.
The following morning, I drove to the location of the review and strategically selected a parking space with empty spaces all around it so that I could drive through into the space and avoid needing to reverse the behemoth. As I was walking across the parking lot, someone accosted me and said: ‘Nice truck, how do you like it?’ Embarrassed at driving such an environmental-unfriendly vehicle, I responded that it was a rental car that I just picked up. To which he replied that the best protection against my Tacoma, was his Tacoma. And, that it was his dream car. Then, I noticed that he had parked his black one alongside mine.
Our children learnt to drive in our ancient Ford Explorer and loved it. We all knew that it was wrong to drive something that consumed fuel so voraciously even if it did get us effortlessly through the most horrendous winter storms. However, we have left all that behind and now either use public transport or drive cars that achieve 60 mpg or more on good days. But here I was being admitted to a club that worshipped their pick-up trucks.
We walked together into the review which was held in a small lecture theatre equipped with comfortable armchairs, which was just as well because we sat there from 8.30 to 4.30 for two days listening to half-hour presentations with only short breaks. We were presented with some stunning research based on brilliant innovative thinking, such as materials that can undergo 90% deformation and fully recover their shape and how the rippling motion of covert feathers on a bird’s wings could help us design more efficient aeroplanes. More on that in later posts. Of course, there were some less good presentations that had many us reaching for our mobile phones to catch up on the endless flow of email [see: ‘Compelling Presentations‘ on March 21st, 2018). At the end of each day, we dispersed to different hotels scattered across town in our rental cars. On Thursday, I drove back to the airport and topped up the fuel tank before returning my truck. I worked out that it had achieved only 19 mpg (US) or 23 mpg (UK), despite my gentle driving – that’s almost three times the consumption of my own car! On the plane home I started reading ‘Overstory‘ by Richard Powers, a novel about our relationship to trees and the damage we are doing to the environment on which trees, and us, are dependent.
Six months ago, I wrote about ‘Finding DIMES’ as we kicked off a new EU-funded project to develop an integrated measurement system for identifying and tracking damage in aircraft structures. We are already a quarter of the way through the project and we have a concept design for a modular measurement system based on commercial off-the-shelf components. We started from the position of wanting our system to provide answers to four of the five questions that Farrar & Worden  posed for structural health monitoring systems in 2007; and, in addition to provide information to answer the fifth question. The five questions are: Is there damage? Where is the damage? What kind of damage is present? How severe is the damage? And, how much useful life remains?
During the last six months our problem definition has evolved through discussions with our EU Topic Manager, Airbus, to four objectives, namely: to quantify applied loads; to provide condition-led/predictive maintenance; to find indications of damage in composites of 6mm diameter or greater and in metal to detect cracks longer than 1mm; and to provide a digital solution. At first glance there may not appear to be much connection between the initial problem definition and the current version; but actually, they are not very far apart although the current version is more specific. This evolution from the idealised vision to the practical goal is normal in engineering projects.
We plan to use point sensors, such as resistance strain gauges or fibre Bragg gratings, to quantify applied loads and track usage history; while imaging sensors will allow us to measure strain fields that will provide information about the changing condition of the structure using the image decomposition techniques developed in previous EU-funded projects: ADVISE, VANESSA (see ‘Setting standards‘ on January 29th, 2014) and INSTRUCTIVE. We will use these techniques to identify and track cracks in metals ; while for composites, we will apply a technique developed through an EPSRC iCASE award from 2012-16 on ‘Full-field strain-based methods for NDT & structural integrity measurement’ .
I gave a short briefing on DIMES to a group of Airbus engineers last month and it was good see some excitement in the room about the direction of the project. And, it felt good to be highlighting how we are building on earlier investments in research by joining the dots to create a deployable measurement system and delivering the complete picture in terms of information about the condition of the structure.
Image: Infra red photograph of DIMES meeting in Ulm.
The INSTRUCTIVE and DIMES projects have received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreements No. 685777 and No. 820951 respectively.
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.
This week I am in the US presenting work from our EU projects INSTRUCTIVE and MOTIVATE at the Annual Conference and Exposition of the Society for Experimental Mechanics. Although the INSTRUCTIVE project was completed at the end of December 2018, the process of disseminating and exploiting the research will go on for some time. The capability to identify the initiation of cracks when they are less than 1mm long and to track their propagation is a key piece of technology for DIMES project in which we are developing an integrated system for monitoring the condition of aircraft structures. We are in the last twelve months of the MOTIVATE project and we have started producing video clips about the technology that is being developed. So, if you missed my presentations at the conference in the US then you can watch the videos online using the links below 😉.
We have been making videos describing the outputs of our EU project for about 20 years; so, if you want to see some vintage footage of me twenty years younger then watch a video from the INDUCE project that was active from 1998 to 2001.
In academic life you get used to receiving feedback, including plenty of negative feedback when your grant proposal is declined by a funding agency or your manuscript is rejected by the editor of a journal. We are also subject to annual performance reviews which can be difficult if all of your proposals and manuscripts have been rejected. So, how should we respond to negative feedback?
The Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius is credited with the saying ‘Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact’, which perhaps implies we should not take the negative feedback too seriously, or at least we should look for some evidence.
Tasha Eurich has suggested we should mine it for insight and harness it for improvement but without incurring collateral damage to your self-confidence. He recommends a five-point approach, based on empirical evidence:
Don’t rush to react
Gather more evidence
Find a harbinger
Don’t be a lonely martyr but engage in dialogue
Remember that change is not the only option; you can accept your weaknesses, share them and work around them.
If you are the one giving the negative feedback then it is worth remembering the stages of response to bad news are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Hopefully, the feedback will not induce the full range of response but, when it does, you should not be surprised.