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Miguel Fernandes Ferreira is originally from Portugal. He became a Research Student at Oxford Brookes in January 2016 and his thesis title is 'Development of a system of parametric equations for optimal damping coefficients'.
I first heard about Oxford Brookes when looking for the best institution to pursue a Master’s degree in Motorsport Engineering. I did not have the opportunity to attend a Postgraduate Fair however all my expectations were met. The facilities are probably what initially impressed me the most with plenty of high end racing cars on display and incredible equipment available. However it was when the interaction with lecturers and technicians started that the real value of Oxford Brookes shined through.
Having achieved my Master’s degree in Motorsport Engineering at Oxford Brookes I was very familiar with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (MEMS). I had the chance to know the people and the equipment related to my area of interest before and I made the decision to stay and continue to develop my understanding of my area. This decision was made even easier when I was awarded a Research Studentship in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of Oxford Brookes University.
Settling into the research environment was very straight forward. Research students are very approachable and the facilities are organized in a way that promotes interaction, making it easy to get to know everyone. There are also great initiatives from students, Department and University to organise and promote social events. The amount of resources available is fantastic; the University has free access to a great database of journals and other publications with plenty of support from librarians specialised in different subjects.
The typical automotive suspension system is composed of a spring and damper installed at each wheel of the vehicle. The characteristics of the spring/damper pair are carefully selected in order to confer the desired behaviour to the vehicle. Generically, automotive suspension should promote traction and stability during dynamic manoeuvres while providing the required amount of comfort to passengers. The challenge in automotive suspension design arises from the conflicting nature of the parameters needed to achieve a balanced behaviour.
Current passive systems employ dampers with nonlinear characteristics that provide different levels of force depending on the velocity, and sometimes position, of the damper. The correct choice of nonlinear characteristics can achieve a compromise that confers the intended characteristics. Achieving the optimal setup is a complex task that typically relies on iterative methods that require a large amount of time and resources as well as testing grounds or specialised equipment.
Virtual simulation has become an important tool for optimisation. However, due to the complex nature of the problem being addressed this method tends to require a large amount of computational resources. The development of a set of parametric equations capable of determining the optimal damper functions for a wide range of vehicles and applications would address the current issues related to optimising a passive system without the excessive cost and complexity of implementing an active system.
The most enjoyable part of being a research student is having the freedom to pursue knowledge in the area of interest. It is very rewarding when I realise that I am slowly progressing into becoming an expert in the field. It is also challenging as it can be hard to manage all that freedom. Exploring a new topic opens quite a few doors of possible leads to follow and this can quickly become overwhelming if a clear sense of direction is not present. An essential skill that has to be developed and mastered during an MPhil/PhD is undoubtedly time management.
Oxford Brookes University offers a very comprehensive training program for research students. The Doctoral Training Program (DTP) is composed of weekly training sessions/lectures covering different areas that are of interest for researchers. Ethics, data visualisation, and speaking with the media are some examples of topics covered during these sessions which are a valuable addition to the program.