This is third in a series of posts reflecting on my path to becoming an engineer. In the previous one, I described how I left the Royal Navy and became a research assistant at the University of Sheffield in the Department of Mechanical Engineering [see ‘Reasons I became an engineer: #2’ on May 3rd, 2023]. My choice of research topic was dictated by the need for a job because I had to buy myself out of the Royal Navy after they had sponsored my undergraduate degree and I needed a salary to allow me to make the monthly payments. So, I accepted the first job that was offered when I went back to the University to talk about my options. I worked on investigating the load and stress distributions in threaded connections with a view to designing bolted joints that would be lighter, stronger and with a longer life. We used a combination of finite element modelling [see ‘Did cubism inspire engineering analysis?’ on January 25th 2017] and three-dimensional photoelasticity, which is an experimental technique that has fallen out of fashion [see ‘Art and Experimental Mechanics’ on July 17th, 2012]. I was fortunate because all of my work as a research assistant went into my PhD thesis which although not ground-breaking resulted in several journal papers [see ’35 years later and still working on a PhD thesis’ on September 16th 2020] and, with the help of personal contacts, a post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical School at the University of Calgary, Canada. In Calgary, I worked on the design of experiments to measure the stress in the pericardium, which is a sac that surrounds the heart – still engineering but a major shift in focus from industrially-focussed mechanical engineering toward biomedical engineering.
Image: Fringe pattern in section of photoelastic model of jet engine showing distribution of stress from Patterson EA, Brailly P & Taroni M, High frequency quantitative photoelasticity applied to jet engine components, Experimental Mechanics, 46(6):661-668, 2006.