Physical & Engineered Systems Research

Physical systems exhibit emergent phenomena that combine scale, interconnectivity and non-linearity. The absence of "agency" and the "organic complexity" that is characteristic of social or biological systems allows for significant progress through the use of simulation approaches that are now mature enough to be predictive and deployed at large scales.

Visualisation ExamplesDomain Visualisation Examples

Multi-Agent Systems

The current challenge in materials modelling is the need for multi-physics and multi-scale simulations. Specific complex properties that are key to the functionality of nanodevices can only emerge by modelling two or more physical phenomena simultaneously, e.g., electric currents together with the resulting increase in temperature, and expansion of the structure, and by coupling computational models at different length scales.

Key Contacts

  • Lenka Pitonakova

Thesis: Designing Robot Swarms - Lenka Pitonakova

Lenka PitonakovaDuring my PhD, I worked on guidelines for building multi-agent algorithms. I developed a mathematical framework for understanding multi-agent behaviour, a modelling language for representing multi-agent algorithms and a set of "design patterns" - reusable behavioural components that can be combined together into control algorithms that allow robots to cooperate with each other.

swarm roboticsRobot Swarm

I am currently working on neural-network based self-monitoring algorithms that allow robots to learn about their environment in an unsupervised fashion and to identify new objects and situations. The work is at the University of Bristol and in partnership with Thales, who develop autonomous systems for the transport, space and other industries, allowing us to tackle both academic and applied science questions.

Publications, e.g.,

  • Pitonakova, L., Crowder, R. & Bullock, S. (2018). Information exchange design patterns for robot swarm foraging and their application in robot control algorithms. Frontiers in Robotics and AI, DOI: 10.3389/frobt.2018.00047
  • Pitonakova, L., Crowder, R. & Bullock, S. (2018). The Information-Cost-Reward framework for understanding robot swarm foraging. Swarm Intelligence, 12(1), 71-96.
  • Pitonakova, L., Crowder, R. & Bullock, S. (2016). Information flow principles for plasticity in foraging robot swarms. Swarm Intelligence, 10(1), 33–63.

Nanodevices and Self Assembly

There is an increasing number of deployed, interacting devices, behaving autonomously and combining their behaviours in various ways. It is far from a solved problem to design and build ever smaller computing devices that interact through the global communications and information infrastructure of the Internet, Web and Grid. How do we understand and engineer the behaviour of these new systems?

Key Contacts

  • David Cortes
  • Maximilian Albert
  • Dmitri Chernyshenko

Thesis: Computational Simulations of Complex Chiral Magnetic Structures - David Cortes

David CortesI do research of magnetic materials at the nano-scale using computer simulations. Currently, I'm studying a particular range of materials where complex configurations, such as whirls, hedgehogs or helices, have been observed experimentally. These configurations are of high interest to scientists because many of them have fascinating properties that makes them good candidates to replace actual electronic technologies such as information devices. I am also interested in promoting open and reproducible research, thus all of my recent publications are accompanied by references to well documented online public repositories containing and showing the computer tools used in the studies. This is significantly important to make research accessible, transparent and to validate published results.

Publications, e.g.,

  • Proposal for a micromagnetic standard problem for materials with Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interaction D Cortés-Ortuño, M Beg, V Nehruji, L Breth, R Pepper, T Kluyver, ... arXiv preprint arXiv:1803.11174
  • Thermal stability and topological protection of skyrmions in nanotracks. D. Cortés-Ortuño, W. Wang, M. Beg, R. A. Pepper, M.-A. Bisotti, R. Carey, M. Vousden, T. Kluyver, O. Hovorka and H. Fangohr.Scientific Reports 7, 4060, 2017

Artifical Life and Thermodynamics

Key Contact

  • Staurt Bartlett

Thesis: Why is life? : An Assessment of the Thermodynamic Properties of Dissipative, Pattern-forming Systems - Stuart Bartlett

Stuart BartlettBroadly speaking, I'm interested in the transition from non-living to living. We currently have only one observable system in which this transition has taken place, which makes it a particularly challenging problem.

The study of this one (special?) case attempts to re-construct the geochemical state of the early Earth and deduce the steps, which life may have taken from complex chemistry to simple single-celled organisms endowed with some form of genome. The evolution of life on Earth from that point on is slightly more straightforward to piece together with the use of phylogenetic analyses.

Rather than contribute to this effort, I have chosen to ask a more general question which is strongly linked to the definition of life: What is required for a system to become living?

Publications, e.g.,

  • Bartlett, S. J., Dujardin, J., Kahl, A., Kruyt, B., Manso, P., Lehning, M., (2018) Charting the Course: A Possible Route to a Fully Renewable Swiss Power System. Energy, 163, 942-955
  • Bartlett, S. J. (2017) A Non-Isothermal Chemical Lattice Boltzmann Model Incorporating Thermal Reaction Kinetics and Enthalpy Changes. Computation, 5(3)
  • Bartlett, S. J. and Virgo, N. (2016) Maximum Entropy Production is not a Steady State Attractor for 2D Fluid Convection. Entropy, 18(12)
  • Bartlett, S. J. and Bullock, S. (2014) Natural convection of a two-dimensional Boussinesq fluid does not maximize entropy production. Physical Review
hot cold interface dynamicsA turbulent convection flow in which a fluid is heated from below and cooled from above. Colour corresponds to temperature. This simulation is in an initial transient phase in which thermal plumes are growing and 'competing'

Systems Design and Optimisation

Value-Driven design research targets the design and development process itself, developing new multidisciplinary tools, approaches and insights by modelling how the "eco-system" of prime contractors, international supply chains, governments, customers and could best interact. In this way, "value" metrics that trade-off, e.g., product performance, noise, emissions, cost, maintainability, flexibility, are modelled and understood to optimise systems holistically.

Key Contacts

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  • Felis feugiat viverra.

Thesis: Life-cycle Simulation for Early Aerospace Design: how small design decisions can have a large impact

I build real world systems as virtual worlds and test hypothesis in this safe space. The focus is on physical process-based systems such as supply chains, warehouses, logistics, etc. Whenever things move, interact and exhibit complex (hard to analyse) behavior, I can provide valuable insights through dynamic, interactive and visual models.

  • Evaluating design decisions in real-time using operations modelling B Schumann, J Scanlan, K Takeda, ATOS Air Transport and Operations Symposium
  • A Generic Operational Simulation for Early Design Civil Unmanned Aerial Vehicles B Schumann, JP Scanlan, K Takeda SIMUL 2011, The Third International Conference on Advances in System
  • Better design decisions through operational modeling during the early design phases, B Schumann, M Ferraro, A Surendra, JP Scanlan, H Fangohr, Journal of Aerospace Information Systems 11 (4), 195-210

Transport and Infrastructure

The sustainability challenge for a transport system, where each 'individual' competes for the most significant advantage, still requires answers to fundamental questions such as: how can transport managers achieve optimisation of limited transport capacity? How can direct communications between vehicles increase road capacities while maintaining safety? How can the different forms of transport be better integrated?

Key Contacts

  • Chris Osowski.
  • James Snowdon.

Thesis: Developing data collection methods to inform the quantitative design of cycle infrastructure - Chris Osowski

Click here to download the poster PDF files.

Publications, e.g.,

  • Osowski, C., & Waterson, B. (2014). The importance of interactions in determining service measures for bicycles. In UTSG Conference 2014 (pp. 1–12).
  • https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/361083/
  • Osowski, C., & Waterson, B. (2015). Derivation of spatiotemporal data for cyclists (from video) to enable agent-based model calibration. Procedia Computer Science, 52(0), 932–937.
  • Osowski, C., & Waterson, B. (2017). Establishing the validity of cycle path capacity assumptions in the Highway Capacity Manual. International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, 11(6), 422–432.

Thesis: Modelling driver experience and its role in influencing diversion behaviour - James Snowdon

Throughout my PhD and professional career I have been involved in predicting how travellers would respond to any hypothetical travel situation. This allows us to plan effectively how to spend what is often public funds, and also encourage healthy and environmental behaviours.

Publications, e.g.,

  • Snowdon, J. and Waterson, B. (2013) When congestion can be useful: Modelling driver diversion behaviour in road traffic networks. In: 12th European Conference on Artificial Life
  • Snowdon, J., Waterson, B. and Fangohr, H. (2012) The evolution of driver route switching behavior in stochastically perturbed networks. In: 4th International Symposium on Dynamic Traffic Assignment
  • Snowdon, J., Waterson, B. and Fangohr, H. (2012) Evolution of adaptive route choice behaviour in drivers. In: 44th Annual Conference of the Universities' Transport Study Group
  • Snowdon, J., Powers, S. and Watson R. (2009) Moderate contact between sub-populations promotes evolved assortativity enabling group selection. In: 10th European Conference on Artificial Life


Turbulence is a nonlinear phenomenon where coherent structures emerge from a background of three-dimensional fluctuations of vorticity. These structures often dominate physical events such as surface drag (e.g., aircraft noise and efficiency) and mixing (e.g., combustion efficiency) and appear to offer a useful route to the control of turbulent flow. A natural way to think of turbulence is as interacting coherent structures. However, the definition and identification of a vortex are not unique, nor the effects additive.

Key Contacts

  • Aleksander Dubas
  • Jacob Turner
  • Gabriel Amine-Eddine

Thesis: Aerodynamic Noise from Undulated Leading Edge Aerofoils - Jacob Turner

Aleksander DubasMy PhD research was in the area of computational aeroacoustics, focusing on the problem of noise generation caused by unsteady vortical disturbances impinging with an aerofoil. High fidelity numerical simulations were utilised to investigate the noise mitigation properties of wavy leading edge aerofoils. The research provided significant insights into the physical mechanisms behind the noise reductions offered by the geometry.

Publications, e.g.,

  • Turner, J.M. and Kim, J.W., Aeroacoustic effects of the trailing edge of an undulated aerofoil subjected to impinging disturbances, 23rd AIAA/CEAS Aeroacoustics Conference, 2017
  • Turner, J.M. and Kim, J.W., Towards understanding aerofoils with wavy leading edges interacting with vortical disturbances, 22nd AIAA/CEAS Aeroacoustics Conference, 2016
  • Turner, J., Kim, J.W., Chaitanya, P. and Joseph, P., Towards understanding aerofoils with dual-frequency wavy leading edges interacting with vortical disturbances, 22nd AIAA/CEAS Aeroacoustics Conference, 2016

Thesis: Robust Automated Computational Fluid Dynamics Analysis and Design Optimisation of Rim Driven Thrusters - Aleksander Dubas

Aleksander DubasMy research interests remain in the fields of computational fluid dynamics, high-performance computing, turbulence modelling and design optimisation.