Engineering excellence in performance sport
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Engineering: Maritime Engineering, Interdisciplinary Engineering
Summary of the impact
A total of 34 British Olympic Gold medal triumphs in Beijing (2008),
Vancouver (2010) and London (2012), [redact 14 words] relied to a greater
or lesser extent on research in fluid dynamics, instrumentation and
[redact 4 words] originating from the University of Southampton's
Performance Sport Engineering Laboratory (PSEL). Global media coverage of
the science behind these victories has raised the profile of British
engineering. PSEL was awarded a 2012 Queen's Anniversary Prize for its
sustained contribution to the competitiveness of the UK's sailing and
motorsport industries worldwide through its research, specialist
consultancy services and its high-quality engineering graduates.
The margins of victory in elite cycling, [redact 3 words], skeleton or in
the race for pole position in F1 can be as little as a hundredth of a
second. As such, the sustained research of the Performance Sports
Engineering Laboratory (PSEL) has centred on ensuring that athletes,
coaches, and designers have available [redact 11 words]. The primary area
where these performance gains originate is from PSEL's research into the
complex, often unsteady, flow regime around yachts, vehicles and cyclists
from the early 1990's onwards. [redact 21 words].
PSEL is a collaboration of academics directed by Turnock, Professor of
Maritime Fluid Dynamics (UoS PhD '93) who was an employed researcher (R)
'88 onwards, appointed a Lecturer (L) in `94, Airbus Professor of Aircraft
Engineering Zhang L `93, Professor of Ship Dynamics, Wilson L '75, Senior
Lecturers Drs Hudson(UoS PhD'99) R'94-, L '99-, Forrester (UoS PhD '03)
R'03-,L'07, and Dr Taunton (UoS PhD'04) R'06-,RCUKF '08-, L'11.
Longstanding Research Director Claughton, and in post since completing
their doctorates research engineers Prince (UoS PhD `99), Wright (UoS PhD
'00) and Scarponi (Perugia/UoS PhD, '06) are part of the UoS's Wolfson
Unit (WU) for marine technology and industrial aerodynamics.
The underpinning research of the academic team, with related funds from
EPSRC of £1.16 milllion, all completed prior to 2008 was that of Zhang (PI
GR/M2156), Unsteady flowfield and noise radiation from high-lift
devices; Turnock (CI GL11687), Prototype integrated electric
thrusters for work class underwater vehicles thrusters, (PI
GL32279), Convective cell approach for free surface flow around moored
offshore structures, and (CI GJ73193) Enhanced ship manoeuvring
performance estimates through effective design of rudder-propeller
systems; Wilson (PI GR/N16471) Ships' wash impact management;
and Hudson (CI EP/C525728) Design of High-Performance Marine Craft
from a Human Factors Perspective.
This background fluids research contributed to Zhang's pioneering wind
tunnel research into diffusers, wheel interactions and other subtle flow
control influences of F1 car design [3.1, prior to 2003] allowing greater
insight into the opportunities to maximise car performance throughout the
race. The work of Turnock on improved design of control surfaces [3.2,
1995-2006], and with Zhang understanding bluff body flow using
experimental and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) [3.3, 3.4, 1999-2005]
and Wilson and Taunton's work on wave resistance of high performance
hulls[3.5, 1998-2004], all gave the necessary insight into unsteady fluid
dynamics and the ability to make precise and repeatable measurements.
Whereas the work of Scarponi and Turnock [3.6, 2003-2007] developed a
vital understanding of how human decision making can be included in race
There has been on-going research in competitive sail craft at UoS since
the 1950s. For example WU has had a continuous involvement (Claughton)
with Team New Zealand's since their first successful America's Cup (AC)
campaign of 1995. Wind tunnel tests on sails, keels and bulbs as well as
hull development through towing tank tests were carried out giving them
further victories in 2000 as well as runners up again in 32nd
AC in 2007. In this competition WU gave research support to seven of the
competing teams (Claughton, Wright, Prince).
This excellent track record in uncovering small fluid dynamic based
performance margins led to a partnership with UKSport from 2005, with
Southampton's WU one of eight organisations awarded Innovation Partner
status. Initial research drew on PSEL's expertise to seek aerodynamic
improvements for track cycling and bob skeleton, and aero/hydrodynamic
gains [redact 12 words] where fluid dynamic drag is of importance.
PSEL's research into performance gains is a unique expertise [redact 31
words] Using the UK's largest University-sector wind tunnel, from 2005
onwards, the PSEL team developed [redact 44 words] The computational
simulation of fluid dynamics to measure drag [3.3] was applied to vehicles
and equipment using Southampton's parallel supercomputer Iridis 3. [redact
In 2010 they developed a novel winch system for evaluating the
hydrodynamics of swimmers, in which a line pulls the swimmer through the
water as academics analyse stroke technique through synchronised video and
a network of wireless motion sensors. Based on research into these and
similar instrumentation techniques from 2006 onwards the PSEL team created
a system [redact 11 words]. This was used by Turnock's EngD student Rachel
Blackburn to [redact 6 words] design a new sled, `Arthur', [redact 38
References to the research
(the best 3 indicating quality of research are starred)
[3.1]* Ruhrmann, A. and Zhang, X (2003) Influence of diffuser
angle on a bluff body in ground effect. Journal of Fluids Engineering,
Transactions of the ASME, 125, (2), 332-338. (doi:10.1115/1.1537252)
[3.2] Molland, A.F., and Turnock S.R., 2007, Marine Rudders and
Control Surfaces: principles, data and design, Butterworth Heineman,414pp.
[3.3]* Pattenden, R.J., Bressloff, N.W., Turnock, S.R., and Zhang, X,
2007, Unsteady simulations of the flow around a short surface-mounted
cylinder, Intl, Journal of Numerical Methods in Fluids, 53:895-914; DOI:
[3.4]* Pattenden, R.J., Turnock, S.R. and Zhang, X., 2005,
Measurements of the flow over a low aspect ratio cylinder mounted on a
ground plane. Experiments in Fluids, 39(1) 10-21.
[3.5] Molland, A.F., Wilson, P.A., Taunton, D.J., Chandraprabha,
S. and Ghani, P.A. (2004) Resistance and wash measurements on a series of
high speed displacement monohull and catamaran forms in shallow water.
International Journal of Maritime Engineering, 146, (2), 19-38.
[3.6] Scarponi, M, Conti, P, Shenoi, R.A. and Turnock, S.R.
(2008) Interactions between yacht-crew systems and racing scenarios
combining behavioural models with VPPS. Transactions of the Royal
Institution of Naval Architects Part B: International Journal of Small
Craft Technology, 150, (B1), 11-18.
Details of the impact
PSEL research into [redact 2 words] fluid dynamic interactions has
uncovered crucial performance gains that contributed directly to
widespread British sporting success in all the Olympic games from 2008
onwards, raising the international profile of British engineering
excellence and helping inspire greater public interest in sport.
Dr's Wright and Prince are founding member's of British Cycling's (BC)
`secret squirrel club ' and led the wind tunnel testing recommending
changes that achieved significant performance gains when first rolled out
in 2008 and then again in a more challenging 2012 Olympics. BC's
Brailsford stating `We have done a huge amount of work with the wind
tunnel in Southampton and have come up with some cool stuff'
[5.1,5.2]. BC won 14 gold medals in 11 days of Olympic competition in 2008
and 2012. BC Head of Research and Development praised Southampton [5.3]
for 'Their world leading experimental capabilities, innovation and
technical expertise in the area of cycling aerodynamics and engineering
are outstanding `. [redact 106 words] [5.4].
PSEL research informed the design, by two of Turnock's doctoral students
of `Arthur', the sled used by skeleton racer Amy Williams in the 2010
Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The sled and the students' use of the wind
tunnel was the major contributing factor to Williams becoming the first
British individual gold medallist at a Winter Games for 30 years [5.5].
Research techniques honed through PSEL's expertise in maritime
engineering underpinned the design of the systems used to test 38 of the
45-strong British Swimming team for London 2012. [redact 29 words].
British Swimming's lead technical advisor, ex. World Champion Jonty
Skinner confirmed that `its really educated people' [5.6]. Similar
interventions by PSEL in a diverse range of sports including sailing,
rowing, and kayaking made contributions to sports that helped win 34
Olympic Gold medals in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 games. [redact 21 words].
All of PSEL's work with elite British Olympic athletes came under an
"innovation partnership" with UK Sport. In 2012 PSEL was awarded a
prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education,
prompting Dr Scott Drawer, UKSport's Head of Research and Innovation to
describe PSEL's work as `critical'[5.7, 5.8] and that `I wish to
congratulate the University of Southampton for the fantastic work they
have done in the field of sports engineering, in particular with our
Olympic athletes' [5.8].
British Olympic success led to global media coverage of PSEL's
engineering expertise [5.9, 5.10], reaching both NBC in the USA and
Russian TV enhancing the reputation of British engineering at home and
overseas. The design of Amy Williams' skeleton sled in the aftermath of
her victory in 2010 followed the world's press interview of Blackburn at
Williams's post-race press conference[5.11-5.14]. In 2012, media coverage
of the swimming research [5.9, 5.10] had reached an estimated audience of
3.5 million people worldwide. This positive publicity serves to attract UK
school students to study engineering at university with typically 50% of
Southampton's Mechanical, Aerospace and Ship Science UCAS applicants
citing Formula 1, sailing and cycling as motivations for applying. Through
his links with PSEL Olympian of 2004 and now cycling commentator, Chris
Boardman gave an inspirational lecture at the University in May 2012 to
300 17-year-olds from schools less likely to send students to university.
Longstanding research at Southampton has upheld the outstanding
reputation of British engineering in the worlds of sailing and motorsport,
benefiting the UK economy. The research engineers at the WU (Claughton,
Prince, Wright, Scarponi) provide consultancy services worldwide,
achieving a turnover of [redact 1 word] from 2008 to 2013. They optimised
the sloop Kokomo, which in 2010 won the award for best sailing
superyacht at the International Superyacht Society awards. In 2009, the
engineers contributed to the successes of the top three finishers in the
Jacques Vabre transatlantic race and assisted the Challengers, Defender
and Race Management in the run-up to the 34th America's Cup in
The University supplies the sailing and motorsport industries with
high-quality graduates. There are 40,000 skilled jobs in the UK motor
sport industry and its supporting industries, including 25,000 engineers,
with a turnover of £7 bn per year. A UoS graduate [5.15] leads the Red
Bull racing team that won the F1 championship in 2010, 2011 and 2012
states `The University of Southampton continues to produce graduates of
the highest quality that are amongst the best new young talent coming
into this highly competitive industry'. And. `I recognise the
quality of Southampton's engineering graduates, the facilities provided,
the broad and the world-leading research undertaken by your academics in
areas related to aerodynamics and performance'.
Sources to corroborate the impact
[5.1] Sir David Brailsford, quoted in Guardian in 2008 in run up to 2008
games and discusses secret squirrel club in 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/apr/01/cycling.sport
[5.3] [redact 29 words].
[5.4] Chris Boardman's six ITV4 pieces filmed for the 2013 Tour de France
Highlight Programme in the RJMitchell Wind Tunnel, with links to first
five at end of http://www.itv.com/tourdefrance/features/feature-cycling-aerodynamics-part-6-ned-chris-forming-the-complete-package/
with Dr's Prince and Wright playing a silent
role throughout. Southampton referred to as the `home of the secret
[5.5]. The Engineer interviews EngD student Blackburn
article [redact 4 words] both Dr's Blackburn and Roche employed by McLaren
[redact 10 words].
[5.6] Jonty Skinner World Class Technical Advisor to British Swimming
quoted in an article in The Times in which Dr Hudson also interviewed.
[5.7] [redact 12 words].
[5.8] UKSport press release after QAA to PSEL http://www.uksport.gov.uk/news/university-of-southampton-awarded-queens-anniversary-prize-281111
Two examples of swimming media coverage with link to Ben Fogle's piece on
NBC broadcast throughout USA during primetime
Example of the many items of Skeleton media coverage:
and see insert `A rather unique..' in article on Research Impact by
pointing to press release by EPSRC
[5.15] [redact 13 words].