Research Spotlight

Extending battery lifetime: St Hilda's Fellow and students collaborate on groundbreaking research

Dr David Howey holds a Tutorial Fellowship at St Hilda’s and is an Associate Professor in Engineering Science. He teaches maths to St Hilda’s Engineering Science undergraduates. Dr Howey runs a battery management lab where he and his team build battery systems and work out how to control them correctly, so that they last as long as possible. Their main applications are electric transport and energy storage for the power grid. Their work involves running lots of tests on different battery cells and looking at how they behave in the real world, building models of their performance, and joining the dots from the technical constraints to the economic factors. They have developed a system which stops a battery pack from being limited by the worst-performing cell in the pack, allowing one to have a pack that lasts for a longer time, or is cheaper, or smaller. Dr Howey’s group have a spin-out company, Brill Power, which is working to commercialise some of this technology.

The experimental work of one of the DPhil Engineering students in Dr Howey’s team, Trishna Raj, who is also a member of St Hilda’s, has focused on characterising battery ageing. Part-funded by Jaguar Land Rover, Trishna is investigating path dependency of aging. She combines experimental testing and computer simulations to further the team’s understanding of how degradation mechanisms, and the sequence in which they occur, will impact on battery lifetime. This enables them to make accurate predictions, which allows for improved designs, asset valuation, and preventative maintenance.

Our undergraduate student, Han Zhou (Engineering, 2015), was funded by St Hilda’s for a Summer Internship with Dr Howey. Dr Howey and Han worked with BBOXX, a company developing solutions to provide affordable, clean energy to off-grid communities in the developing world. The scale of this business has grown rapidly over the past ten years, and the company spends a significant amount of money on batteries. Han helped to develop algorithms to analyse date from off-grid energy systems in sub-Saharan Africa, to enable accurate failure detection and lifetime prediction.

Dr David Howey and DPhil students, Trishna Raj, take part in the Curiosity Carnival, Museum of Natural History, © Ian Wallman

Behind the Scenes at the Library: Designing an English exhibition

Professor Daniel Wakelin, Fellow of St Hilda’s College and the Jeremy Griffiths Professor of Medieval English Palaeography in the Faculty of English , has curated the exhibition Designing English: Graphics on the Medieval Page at the Bodleian Library in Oxford from 1 December 2017 to 22 April 2018. The exhibition illustrates the graphic design of handwritten manuscripts and inscriptions for the first thousand years of English, across the Middle Ages.

The exhibition emerges from Professor Wakelin’s teaching for the MSt. course in English and for the B Course of the English FHS course. In his classes for those courses, he introduces students to the making and design of the manuscripts in which most medieval literature survives. Several students are working as guides for short ‘taster’ tours in the exhibition gallery, especially with school groups and at the Bodleian’s ‘Library Late’ evening events. In this exhibition, as in his classes, Professor Wakelin seeks to introduce the full range of books in English from the Middle Ages.

To plan the exhibition, Professor Wakelin searched through several hundred of the medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian and chose eighty which would illustrate the variety of designs used for books in the Middle Ages, and grouped them into various aspects of medieval craftsmanship. The usual practice in manuscript studies is to move from one case study to another, but the process of searching widely, for the exhibition, revealed trends and patterns which the exhibition can bring out, and throws up overlooked curiosities that have not previously been central to medieval studies.

In particular, the exhibition covers not only the gorgeous treasures of the finest artists, as often seen in exhibitions of medieval manuscripts, but also the ingenuity of ordinary people writing for practical tasks. It shows how everyday writings – practical and scientific as well as literary – could involve ingenuity in design. The skill and inventiveness of ordinary craftspeople and amateurs have resonance today, when digital media let many people experiment in amateur design – word processing, social media, customized products.

To show the likeness to modern craft, Designing English is running until 11 March alongside Redesigning the Medieval Book, a display of contemporary book arts inspired by the exhibition, created through a workshop and competition. Together, the twin exhibitions show the creativity of medieval artisans in recording English and suggest ways in which that creativity might continue to inspire artists today.

 

Designing English: Graphics on the Medieval Page by curated by Professor Daniel WakelinDesigning English: Graphics on the Medieval Page by curated by Professor Daniel Wakelin

Watch 'Professor Bulte's Incredible Medical Machines' to learn about the machines we use in medical science.

In 'Professor Bulte's Incredible Medical Machines', a series of three bite-sized factual films, our Fellow and Tutor in Engineering Daniel Bulte takes us through the history and science of the machines we use in medical sciences.

Created by Oxford Digital Media and Dr Daniel Bulte, who also an MRI physicist and an Associate Professor in Engineering Science (biomedical engineering), the films are essential viewing for anyone interested in the various machines in hospitals. The films take us to the University of Oxford’s OxStar in the Nuffield Division of Anaesthetics at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain FMRIB, the History of Science Museum and the Bodleian Library to show us how the machines that are in daily use there actually work, how they were invented, and what is being done to improve them and invent new ones.

The series marries Daniel’s enthusiasm for science, history and engineering in a unique way. Over the last century, advances in technology have led to astounding medical advancements and we are all now living longer, healthier lives thanks to some incredible medical machines. Travelling between oak-panelled science museums to clinical environments and labs, Daniel explores the breakthroughs that led to their discovery, dispels common myths, and discovers what we can expect from future medical engineering.

In webisode 1, 'The Body Electric', Daniel explores the history of the use of electricity to treat medical problems, and how we discovered that we can measure the electricity in our bodies to check the health of our hearts. He tracks down some of the earliest examples of the 'electric cure', and attempts to make his own ECG machine with just three buckets, water and salt. Watch here.

In the second webisode, 'Super Magnetic', Daniel gives a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the MRI suite, and demonstrates how powerful these magnets really are - with eye popping results! After scanning his own brain, the images are used to create a state-of-the-art 3D computer model of his entire head and brain. Watch here.

Webisode 3, 'Robot Patients', asks how to do you train for emergencies when you're a medical student? The answer - with robots. Daniel visits a unique facility at the University of Oxford where lifelike robot 'Sims' are used to simulate medical emergencies. They have a pulse, can talk, blink and breathe. And in using them, a remarkable thing happens: the doctors forget they aren’t really human... Watch here.

The films were directed, produced and edited by ODM's development producer and St Hilda's alumna, Hannah Veale.

Professor Bulte's Incredible Medical Machines

Discovery of Novel Drug Treatments For Dementia

Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales, according to a BBC news report in November 2016. Last year, more than 61,000 people died of dementia - 11.6% of all recorded deaths. According to the Office for National Statistics, the change is largely due to an ageing population.

Our Associate Research Fellow Dr Stephen Wren is a dementia researcher at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute at the University of Oxford. The Institute is part of the wider Drug Discovery Alliance, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, which also includes Drug Discovery Institutes at the University of Cambridge and University College London. The coordinated effort aims to streamline drug discovery and translate promising research into potential treatments. Dr Wren works to help develop novel treatments for dementia by evaluating different mechanisms behind the condition. His research involves the design and synthesis of organic compounds that allow entry into the brain as potential drugs/tools for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Read more about the role of the medicinal chemist in drug discovery.

 

Dr Stephen Wren, Associate Research Fellow

‘Strong leadership needed for Brexit’: How will voters respond? asks Professor Petra Schleiter

Professor Petra Schleiter, Fellow and Tutor in Politics at St Hilda's, draws on recent research to analyse how voters will react to Theresa May's decision to call a snap election on 8 June in this article on the University of Oxford's website. Professor Schleiter makes the point that ‘voters take the government’s opportunism into account, as well as policy performance and leadership’.

Professor Schleiter’s most recent research is on Fairness and Voter Reactions to Government Opportunism. Her analysis is also published on the Department of Politics and International Relations' OxPol Blog.

Professor Petra Schleiter