Professor Philip Withers of the University of Manchester and his team have won this year’s prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering/Nexia Solutions prize for innovation in engineering education. Only the second time this Award has been made, the team will receive a £10,000 prize and a specially commissioned trophy at the Academy Awards dinner on Tuesday 5 June.

With EPSRC Partnerships in Public Engagement funding, Professor Withers' team have developed an exciting toolbox for enquiring minds – school students will be able to take a web-based ‘3D journey through a jet engine’, directly supporting the 21st Century Science syllabus and physics A-level. The team use high energy X-rays to examine engine components in much the same way doctors use radiography to diagnose broken bones, but use 100's of images to build up a 3d image. They have transferred this technology to allow everyone to take a virtual 3D journey through a jet engine.

The students can choose the materials to design their engine from a set of Master Materials cards – which can also be used to play a game similar to ‘top trumps’. This can now be played online at  www.whystudymaterials.ac.uk/students/fun/cardgame/cardgame.asp  If their design is successful their plane will take off and achieve good environmental performance.

Professor Withers and his team tested Journey through a Jet Engine on a special audience at last year’s Science Day at Buckingham Palace. They got rave reviews from both teachers and students and now they have a three-year site for the display at Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester thanks to an EPSRC Public Engagement Award. “Only last weekend we were down at the Museum and over 1,000 people came and took part,” he says, “and that was on

FA Cup Final day as well!”

Other tools include an internet microscope for schools allowing students to study a wide range of materials and artefacts in close-up and posters about environmental issues such as A Planet journeying to disaster.

Professor Withers says; ‘We are working with Rolls-Royce to develop new materials and processes to make engines lighter and operate at higher temperatures. Inevitably, the trick of keeping hundreds of tonnes of people and machine in the air and transporting them thousands of miles will always have some environmental consequences; our research ensures that this is done with as little environmental impact as possible. By capturing the interest of school children we can help to ensure we have the jet engine designers we need for the future.'

Notes for editors

  1. Prof Phil Withers directs the University of Manchester Aerospace Institute involving over 100 academics. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2005 and a Royal Society-Wolfson Merit Award holder in 2002 for his pioneering work developing techniques for imaging structure and mapping residual stresses in engineering materials and components using neutron and X-ray beams. He is particularly interested in the safety of aerospace and nuclear structures and components. Originating from Cambridge University he took up a Chair in Materials science at Manchester in 1998.
  2. The Royal Academy of Engineering/Nexia Solutions Education Innovation Prize has been instituted to recognize both organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions in the whole field of Engineering Education. The prize is focused on innovation in the approach taken to teaching the subject. A single prize of £10,000 and a trophy is awarded annually.
  3. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering