Did the title catch your eye? Good! Because this post is about my literature research project (no don’t navigate away!).
One of the main projects in Mech Eng Third year is the LRP. You basically go into an engineering research topic in great depth by reading up on published research papers etc. Then you combine everything you have discovered into a 30-paged bound essay. Then you eagerly await your grades.
We had to choose our topics very early in the year. They released a list of all the available topics and we had to contact the appropriate supervisor begging them to take us on. The topics themselves were literally limitless: from wave power to nuclear waste management to active suspension systems. What was not limitless was their number…
100 topics. 130 students.
Yeh, you can guess what happened. The ‘stampede’ was worse than that time when we were freshers and someone yelled ‘FREE FOOD!’.
By the time I had contacted the professors with my preferred topics, they had already been taken. And this was only 20 hours after the topic list had been released. I mean, it’s not the 7th Harry Potter book or anything! Still, it’s good that everyone is so keen.
So I begged my personal tutor for advice:
Me: Please help me Dr Bluck! Give me a literature research project!
Dr Bluck: Yeh sure.
Me: Please! I’m going to fail otherwise!! Eh…wait, what?
I was getting pretty used to polite rejections by now, so this was a welcome change.
Me: Thanks! Can I do it on something nuclear?
I’m taking the ‘Mechanical Engineering with Nuclear Engineering’ course, so this would make sense. It also helped that my personal tutor is one of the organizers of the course.
Dr Bluck: Yes, of course.
Me: I wanna do it on Large Break Loss of Coolant Accidents!!!!
Dr Bluck: That’s a good topic.
Me: No..wait…actually can I do it on fusion?!?!?!?!?! (If I had subtitles while talking they really would read like this…)
Dr Bluck: Sure.
That’s when I realised I didn’t know anything about fusion – I only knew that it was a real possibility for energy in the future. I had no idea about the inhibitions and challenges or anything. I was pretty much illiterate.
Dr Bluck: You can do it on the materials issues in fusion reactors.
And that was how my awesome and fascinating topic was born. The moral of this story is: keep close ties with your personal tutors because he/she can really help you out in times of need.
Until a few months ago I had not realized the extent to which nuclear fusion power had developed. The concept has actually been around for decades. And the issues you would expect to be science-fiction (such as the extremely high temperatures involved, the self-sustainability of the reactions, the energy pay-off) are actually mostly resolved! In fact, an experimental fusion reactor (ITER) is scheduled to be turned on in 2018, and will potentially produce 10 times more power than it requires to operate. Exciting stuff!
The only real issues are to do with the materials needed for the structure and the various components. Some big scientist once said that the material selection and development for fusion reactors was easily one of the ‘greatest challenges of all time’ (I actually quoted this guy in my paper. He wrote some pretty good stuff). It is no exaggeration. The materials undergo huge thermal loads and are completely bashed in by rogue neutrons (way more so than in a fission plant). One can only feel sorry for the poor materials.
So I learnt a lot about the latest in fusion – and I also learnt that this might be something I want to do in the future (it also helped that I got an A on the report!). This is what engineering is about. It’s about really pushing boundaries and letting your imagination run wild like a feral beast. Who’d have thought man could make a “sun” (as the press like to refer to it) in 180 hectares of land? I am quite sure that in 100 years time all our energy will be made this way (provided humans haven’t been wiped out by then).
On an unrelated note – I’m a guide for admissions day (showing interviewees around campus and talking about ourselves and the course etc). Today one of the interviewees came up to me and said that she had read my blog! She is my new best friend.
I’m really glad that prospective students read this