School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering


14 Oct 2019

Loughborough Team strong at the Global Grand Challenges Summit

Loughborough Team 1 led by Tegan Forbes (2nd left), photo by Rob Lacey

Loughborough University was out in full force at the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Global Grand Challenges Summit, held at the South Bank from 16-17 September. With an overall theme of Engineering in an Unpredictable World, the event was the first in a second series of summits hosted by a partnership of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Chinese Academy of Engineering and the US National Academy of Engineering.

Researchers from Loughborough University joined delegates from around the globe, to exhibit and discuss innovations responding to 14 Global Grand Challenges, such as making solar energy economical, providing access to clean water and ‘engineering the tools of scientific discovery’.  Loughborough’s 5G Research Centre into mobile technology – part of the Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering - exhibited two major projects aimed at dealing with some of the toughest global challenges. In addition, in the student competition and collaboration lab, two of the remaining five teams representing the UK were from Loughborough. 

The first of 5GRC’s projects showing at the exhibition, the Emergency Water Information Network project (EWIN), has developed an inexpensive flood monitoring network suitable for use in developing countries that have mobile phone technology infrastructure in place.  A multi-disciplinary team of engineers from three universities has created and tested a novel system of fixed and floating sensors. The array relays flood-monitoring data in real time, in order to allow emergency services to respond more quickly as dangerous conditions develop. Representing the EWIN project at the Global Grand Challenges event were the project leader, Dr Robert Edwards from Loughborough University and Prof. Victor Rangel from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  


The EWIN stand with Dr Robert Edwards (photo by Prof Victor Rangel)

The second project we exhibited is SYMETA (SYnthesizing 3D METAmaterials for RF, microwave and THz applications). Loughborough University is leading the project, in conjunction with four other institutions: University of Exeter, University of Sheffield, Oxford University and Queen Mary, University of London, as well as twelve industrial partners from a range of sectors including defence and electronics manufacture.

The SYMETA project has been looking into how to deliver a palette of ‘meta-atoms’ for use in additive manufacturing.   Meta-atoms are the building blocks for metamaterials – synthetic composites with properties that you would not normally find in natural materials.  These metamaterials will be developed to give end-users the electromagnetic responses they require, for a wide range of communication, electronics, energy and defence applications. The availability of these novel materials should both improve existing applications and break down barriers to innovation. The SYMETA project team has already made a number of breakthroughs, including the development of a novel low temperature sinterable ceramic material for additive manufacturing processes and the world’s first 3D printed metamaterial filter. Researchers on the project have also developed a unique laser sintering technique that will lead to RF and microwave circuits being able to be 3D printed. Loughborough’s first Global Grand Challenges student team is comprised of students from the Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering and the School of Business and Economics.  Their design for a self-sustaining, off-grid toilet block in a shipping container to tackle the lack of sanitation in both rural and urban communities won them a place at the Collaboration Lab and summit. The shipping

container loos include a bio digester to use the human waste to generate both a high-quality fertiliser and electricity for local lighting and phone charging. The team’s mentor, Dr Mey Goh, said “I’m really glad that we participated in the competition, our students have done well to come top 5 in the UK. They have really engaged with the Global Challenges agenda and the summit was very inspirational with lots of prominent speakers and opportunities for international networking”. Our second student team, mentored by Dr Ashraf El-Hamalawi from the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, designed a new type of disaster relief shelter for victims of natural or humanitarian crises. The shelters are modular so they can be adapted easily, to accommodate both private spaces for families and open areas to encourage a sense of community. 

The students took part in a collaboration lab event in London, ahead of the summit. It brought together around 300 students – comprising the winning 15 in-country teams and additionally selected students – from the UK, USA and China. The Collaboration Lab was intended to encourage the students to work cross-culturally and across disciplines. The event was kicked off with the final of the student competition, where the five champion teams from each country pitched to a panel of senior judges. The Loughborough teams performed well but lost out in the end to Surrey’s idea for a post-harvest storage network: the equivalent of Airbnb for grain, aimed at developing countries. 

The student teams were then mixed together to create new, international teams, which were challenged to draw on each other’s skills and experience to develop solutions to the grand challenges, building on those pitched by the student champion teams. On the final morning of the Collaboration Lab, the international teams presented their proposals at a showcase exhibition event. The judges selected several winning teams to present their proposals at the main Summit.

The next Global Grand Challenges Summit will be held in China, in 2021.