Over the last five years we have directly invested half a million pounds each year to drive collaborative research projects. In 2011, the Modelling and Simulation Centre was established as a joint initiative to strengthen this partnership, and in 2017 we were delighted to welcome the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) as the third member of the partnership.
EDF Energy has based 10 employees at the centre; doing their daily work alongside the university researchers and students, this co-location enables the teams to easily collaborate with one another on existing projects, and to explore new opportunities.
“None of this work can be done in isolation. We need both ‘blue skies’ knowledge, and knowledge focused on the needs of industry and society. We need to train new scientists in relevant skills and assist them in finding places in which they can use those skills.” – Professor Mike Smith, Director of the Modelling and Simulation Centre
For Professor Mike Smith this proximity supports the objective of the centre, which has three dimensions:
- Generating new knowledge
- Developing skills for the next generation of scientists and engineers
- Achieving impact – both economic and societal
To date, the MaSC has been the centre of many innovative collaborations; one such project, involving large-scale simulations, has improved the understanding of graphite moderator bricks and acted as a comprehensive validation for information earlier obtained by numerical simulation on supercomputers. This is a key part of the activity of the team in Manchester, who have access to data measured on our nuclear plants and are able to perform ad-hoc experiments commissioned in the labs of the university. R&D UK Centre Director Xavier Mamo says that it is clear the collaboration delivers measurable impacts. “By combining the understanding of the industrial context of our research engineers and the world-leading expertise in modelling at Manchester, we can develop cutting-edge tools to predict the behaviour of elements fundamental to the operation of our nuclear plants.”
EDF Energy extends these benefits beyond the immediate team at Manchester by offering opportunities to young scientists and engineers to work more closely with the industry though MaSC. Skills shortages and replacing an ageing workforce are a real problem for the nuclear industry, particularly in the UK, and EDF is tackling this by welcoming final-year undergraduates onto projects. This benefits all the partners involved at MaSC, and connections that begin at an early stage can often turn into rewarding careers.
The unique business model of MaSC continues to go from strength to strength, as evidenced by its extension in 2017 to include the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) as the third member of the partnership. NNL brings extensive modelling and simulation experience, which will complement the skills already present in MaSC. Looking forward to the next five years, the ambition is for the increased capacity and breadth of expertise to enable the centre to lead on innovations in digital and new technologies for the nuclear sector and its future challenges.
This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.