A-Level students apply passion for science to improve efficiency of aircraft and wind turbines

“I can now see more clearly how my STEM subject A-level choice can add real value to other fields, such as aerodynamics and engineering” – Sabika

Talented A-level students with a passion for science have applied their understanding of chemistry and electronics to improve our knowledge of how we could potentially design aircraft and wind turbines to be more efficient.

The students have been given the opportunity to work with leading Engineering experts at the University of Leicester thanks to support from the Nuffield Foundation.

Last month Sabika and Jeevan, from Leicester, joined Dr Aldo Rona in exploring the flow over a model leading edge (a curved surface designed to give the most favourable flow split between the upper and lower surfaces of a wing or propeller blade), in the Charles Wilson subsonic wind tunnel within the Department of Engineering.

Over four weeks, Sabika used her A- level chemistry knowledge to develop a surface flow visualization compound that exposed fine-scale structures over a model leading edge. The striations of white Titanium Dioxide (Fig. 1) indicate the presence of streamwise vortices, which may affect the aerodynamic and heat transfer performance of wings.

Jeevan used his Electronics A-Level and self-taught IT skills to analyse the images, to characterise the spatial periodicity (the distance over which a shape repeats) of striations at different wind tunnel speeds.

This knowledge, if confirmed, could have practical implications in the design of aircraft wings, gas turbine engines, and wind turbines, helping to create a more sustainable future.

Dr. Aldo Rona said: “These preliminary results are interesting. If confirmed, they would warrant reviewing current design practices of assuming the flow over a two-dimensional wing leading edge being substantially two-dimensional. This may lead to ways of gaining performance and energy conversion efficiency in aircraft and power systems.”

“Hosting Sabika and Jeevan as Nuffield Foundation trainees over a four-week period enabled them to conduct the kind of entry-level speculative research that is vital for advancing the state of the art and for underpinning funded research. I am very pleased by these results that open interesting fundamental questions of flow behaviour over wing leading edges.”

Sabika said: “Getting the right composition for the flow visualisation involved a lot of trial and error. It was hard but it provided a good complement to my Chemistry practical classes. I can now see more clearly how my STEM subject A-level choice can add real value to other fields, such as aerodynamics and engineering. Working with Jeevan in a team was a good experience and I liked the friendly and supportive environment of Engineering, at the University of Leicester."

Jeevan said: “I think doing a work experience over the summer at the University of Leicester was a good choice. I was able to come up with an image processing routine that Dr Rona says goes beyond what was achieved in past projects at Leicester. I am really happy for this. I thank Dr Rona, Mr Paul Williams, and Mr Dipak Raval for their support during the past four weeks. I am starting my last year of A-levels with a clearer idea of where my STEM A-levels can take me. I will definitely consider reading for an applied physical subject at University.”

Jeevan and Sabika’s work was supported by the Nuffield Foundation work placement scheme, managed via the Leicester Education Business Company.