Edinburgh University PhD student Iain Roberts has scooped a prestigious new training award from The Royal Academy of Engineering to help develop his favourite sport. Iain will receive a £5,000 grant for personal development projects as part of his PhD work on the mechanics of skeleton bobsleigh, at which he competes at international level.

Skeleton bobsleigh involves sliding head-first down an ice track at up to 85 miles an hour on a steel sled steered by the slider shifting their weight. "It all depends on weight transference and actual bending of the sled so the better you understand how the sled interacts with the ice and how your movements transfer through the sled to the track the better you can perform,” says Iain. He started sliding three years ago and competes for New Zealand. "Most sleds tend to be of a generic design. With medals won and lost by 0.01 seconds, a sled tailored to the individual could be the advantage that wins a gold medal."

“Iain is passionate about his sport and about applying engineering principles to improve his understanding of skeleton bobsleigh,” says his research supervisor Dr Jane Blackford. “His PhD is on the mechanics of skeleton bobsleigh and ice friction and involves instrumentation and data-logging to measure sled performance and ultimately build a new tailored sled.”

The Academy’s award, one of five given this year for the first time, will enable him to broaden his experience while doing his research, including a study visit to the Ice Physics laboratory at Grenoble. It will also pay for training to help him prepare an event for the Edinburgh Science Festival in 2008.

"This award from the Academy is fantastic," says Iain. "It has been a long, hard process to get this project off the ground. The University of Edinburgh have been great and I’m delighted to have this support for it now. Success in skeleton bob relies on experience so my plan is to build that up in races over the next three years and to be ready for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver."

"The winners of the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Student Development Fellowships are a highly innovative group of young researchers studying important topics such as medicine, energy, security and sport,” says Professor Peter Deasley FREng, Lead Assessor for the awards. “The Fellowships will enable them to initiate technical collaborations with overseas universities and industry and broarden their perspectives by learning languages and developing their individual skills, both technical and cultural."

Notes for editors

  1. The Research Student Development Fellowships have been set up to add value to the research-oriented education of PhD and EngD students, in fields related to electrotechnology, who submit the best personal development plans at the start of their second year of study. After completing their doctoral studies they are eligible to apply for a further £5,000 prize provided they go on to pursue a career in either academic or industrial engineering research in the UK.
  2. 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