A final year research project is one of the main focuses in a Master’s year for many courses. As a Mechanical Engineer, I was spoiled with the privilege of being able to choose from a range of projects from diverse modules and topics. This is largely due to the fact that a large range of modules are introduced in our course, ranging from solid mechanics to fluid mechanics, or even mechatronics. Students are then able to specialize in specific fields upon their third year of studies. Therefore, it’s really interesting to see how widely my project differs compared to some of my coursemates who might be working on projects related to Machine Learning or even Design and Manufacturing. Therefore, I often get questioned by juniors on what exactly does a final year project for a Mechanical Engineering student entail, and I hope to use this blog to share a bit about what I work on too!
Upon completing an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme with the Tribology Department the prior summer, I was certain that I wanted to choose a project focusing on sustainability in materials and to also be involved in physical lab work. Therefore, I decided to embark on a project involving determining ideal manufacturing techniques for bio-nano composites. This decision was made as the project involved will allow me to learn not just different manufacturing techniques for nanocomposites, but also learn how to operate tests to determine material properties of different samples. Furthermore, having worked with my supervisor the prior year on a Design and Manufacturing project, I believe that we had a great dynamic and working relationship to continue on with a new project together.
Working in the adhesives lab to manufacture nanocomposite plates brings back so many memories of working in a chemistry lab back in A-Levels. A nanocomposite plate is manufactured using epoxy, followed by adding a specific weightage of nanocomposite particles. However, to ensure a high-quality composite plate is manufactured, we need to ensure good dispersion of nanoparticles is seen throughout the plate, and that particles are not clumped up. These issues will cause stresses to concentrate in certain areas, allowing the plates to break easily.
Therefore, various methods were trialled to determine potential methods to reduce the amount of clumps present and to ensure the even dispersion of particles. This required extensive reading into past literature, followed by discussions with my supervisor and various PhD students to plan out an ambitious yet feasible timeline. The samples manufactured were then brought to separate labs to be sawed, polished and shaped for testing of material properties and for microscopic images to be obtained. These results gathered allowed us to compare and differentiate the various manufacturing methods tested.
Being able to step into physical labs and experiment with different techniques based on my theoretical understanding, paired with some creative thinking, has definitely been one of the highlights of my final year here at Imperial College. Even though sometimes, it’s hard to witness immediate results in a long term project as such, knowing that I am able to contribute back to society in the manufacture of new sustainable materials is something that I will gladly take pride in!