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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Research Structure and Environment

Mathematics is a small department, located within the University's School of Science and Engineering. Given that Mathematics as a discipline is divided among three Units of Assessment for RAE purposes, the University's strategy over the last ten years has been to encourage members of the Mathematics Department to collaborate with researchers in other disciplines.

Since 1996, the University has wound down its (Grade 4) Physics Department and re-structured its research activity in Physics, Electronics and Mathematics. This re-structuring has meant that in the current assessment exercise the majority of research-active members of the Mathematics Department are being submitted under non-Mathematics Units of Assessment.

However, two research-active members of the Mathematics Department – Professor John Dowden and Dr David Fremlin – have conducted work that cannot easily be placed in any of the non-Mathematics Units of Assessment to which this University is making a submission. They have nonetheless continued to make significant individual contributions in core areas of Mathematics. As a result, they are being submitted as "singletons“, respectively, to the Applied Mathematics and Pure Mathematics Units of Assessment. Their individual contributions have resulted from a strong University-level research culture which ensures that talented individual scholars have access to the necessary physical and intellectual infrastructure to produce high-quality research outputs in their respective fields. The University considers that the quality of the papers cited by Dowden in RA2 demonstrates the viability of the University’s policy, for the current RAE, of supporting a singleton researcher in Applied Mathematics.

Research Achievements during the current Assessment Period

Over the past 5 years Dowden published 25 articles in good refereed journals and has presented 25 papers that have been published in the proceedings of national and international conferences. He has raised research income both from Research Councils (£279,000) and from the private sector (£145,000). He has collaborated with researchers both at Essex (notably with the now-retired physicist Phiroze Kapadia) and at other Universities (notably with colleagues at Liverpool and at Heriot-Watt). He has helped to develop the careers of 5 research students and 4 research officers who have worked with him on collaborative projects. As discussed below under Future Strategy, he is also leading the University’s drive to develop an Applied Mathematics Group which the University plans to submit in the 2006 Research Assessment Exercise.

Dowden’s research focuses on developing mathematical models of a wide variety of problems in materials processing. The materials analysed include metals and concrete. The same techniques have also been applied to problems in laser medicine and volcanology. The papers listed in RA2 represent only a small subset of Dowden’s work. They focus on Dowden’s contributions to new techniques of laser keyhole welding, in which a hole is formed partially or totally through the work piece. Dowden’s cited work analyses the formation of pores in the completed weld and relates their formation to specifiable external conditions. Acoustic noise is used as a diagnostic and has now been added to the list of known reasons for the spectrum typically observed. Dowden has also investigated the circumstances under which absorption of the laser beam in the vapour in the keyhole occurs. He has shown how this process affects the distribution of thermal energy in the welding process, and hence how it affects the profile of the completed weld. Dowden has developed a simple analytic model of pulsed keyhole welding, analogous to existing models of time-independent processes used in engineering, which provides basic understanding of the keyhole welding technique.

Dowden’s papers in refereed journals and conference proceedings since 1996, including those cited in RA2, can be grouped under four broad headings. All the papers mentioned here are jointly authored with Kapadia and others, with Dowden, Kapadia or one of their supervised research students or research officers as principal author in all but four cases.
(1) Nine papers have dealt mainly with aspects of laser keyhole welding associated with the motion of the solid and liquid phases. The research has focused on problems associated with the thickness of material that can be welded and on the width of the resulting weld. It has included the first stochastic analysis of the keyhole's interaction with the work piece. Two further papers have dealt with thermocapillary flow ("Marangoni convection") in the weld pool.
(2) Thirteen papers have dealt with aspects of laser keyhole welding principally connected with the partially ionised vapour that forms in the keyhole and the plume above the work piece. The papers have clarified considerably the complex role played by these features in the transfer of power from the laser beam to the liquid and solid phases in the work piece.
(3) Twelve papers have investigated phenomena associated specifically with arc welding. A further six have dealt with problems associated with stress and distortion in the work piece that occur in both arc and laser welding. One of these papers also deals with the question of thermally induced stress in concrete, showing the mechanism and possible location for the onset of cracking in the material. A further paper presents a new way of finding displacements and stresses inside Mount Etna from analysis of surface displacements.
(4) Two papers have dealt with laser medicine. Three others are concerned with laser drilling, particularly in connection with the initial formation of the keyhole in laser welding. Finally, two papers analyse the use of lasers to provide an electrical path of low resistance.

The collaborative nature of all of Dowden’s research, particularly with researchers outside Essex, has been central to its success. Even before the wind-down of Physics at Essex, there was no experimental group at Essex with interests in the kinds of problem analysed by Dowden and Kapadia. Dowden’s key role in the research has always been to provide the theoretical and mathematical underpinnings for experimental work that could be conducted elsewhere. This has meant that Dowden has been able to conduct his research without the need for major experimental facilities at Essex. The success of this approach can be seen both by the quality of the papers that have been produced as a result of the research and by the large number of researchers from elsewhere who have collaborated in the writing of joint papers. 25 other authors were involved in the writing of the papers described above, representing 6 different countries and 10 different institutions.

Research Environment

For reasons noted above, Dowden is the only person being submitted as research active in Applied Mathematics. The University operates a variety of mechanisms to ensure that individual researchers like Dowden, who collaborate extensively with researchers elsewhere, can conduct their research in a physical and intellectual environment that is conducive to research of the highest quality. These mechanisms are:
· Ensuring that all research-active staff have access to the funds necessary to attend those national and international conferences that are important to their research.
· Providing all academic staff with generous sabbatical leave entitlements. All staff members enjoy one term's paid research leave for every six terms' service.
· Returning a proportion of overheads to individual research accounts as reward and incentive to successful research grant holders. These funds can be used to pay for travel and subsistence costs incurred as a result of collaborations with researchers at other universities.
· Providing bridging funding for continued employment of research officers between grants.
· Each Department has a Director of Research who is responsible for ensuring that each member of academic staff has a rolling 5-year personal research plan. The Director reports to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) on a termly basis, indicating progress towards publication targets.

In addition to these University-level mechanisms, the Mathematics Department contributes to the research environment in the following ways:
· The Department holds regular seminars during term-time, normally weekly, in which an invited speaker or staff member presents a paper. This mechanism is considered to be extremely important for inculcating research values and good research practice among younger staff.
· The Department holds regular research "retreats" (at least one per year), in which staff members report on their latest research findings and plans to colleagues.
· The Department has a Research Students’ Progress Committee that monitors the progress of each research student every six months.
· The Department’s Research Officers and research students are funded to attend appropriate workshops/conferences. They are provided with excellent computer facilities (normally their own PC as well as access to departmental and university workstations).

During the Assessment period, Dowden has also made his own individual efforts to ensure that he has worked in a research environment conducive to the continued production of high-quality research. These include:
· The recruitment of research students and research officers (ROs) to work on specific projects. During the assessment period, 4 ROs have been recruited to work on externally-funded projects. Together with the research students, they have helped to ensure that new ideas and perspectives have been introduced on a continuing basis. In return, Dowden and Kapadia have sought to ensure adequate career progression both for the ROs (2 have moved on to senior research positions elsewhere) and for their research students.
· Collaboration with academic researchers in other institutions. Most of Dowden’s research, as noted above, is theoretically based and has taken place in conjunction with experimental groups elsewhere. The most significant academic collaborators during the assessment period have included teams at Cranfield (under Dr I Richardson); Heriot-Watt (under Professor J. Jones and Dr Duncan Hand); and Liverpool (Professor W.M. Steen and Dr. K. Watkins). Dowden has also collaborated with Dr P. Solana (Polytechnic University of Madrid) and Dr N. Postacioğlu (Technical University of Istanbul), amongst others. Solana is a former RO with Dowden and Postacioğlu is a former research student.
· Securing external research funding. Industrial partners in SERC & EPSRC funded projects (Essex share £279k) or EU-funded projects (£145k) have included British Aerospace plc and The Welding Institute (Cambridge).

Despite being a "singleton“ researcher at Essex. John Dowden has participated fully in the activities of the appropriate research communities at a national and international level. The University and the Department of Mathematics will continue to provide him with the resources and the facilities to participate fully in those activities over the course of the next research assessment cycle.


Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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