UK Acoustics Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


This network grant is focused on acoustics and pursues two main aims: (i) transfer new experimental techniques, models and scientific insights; (ii) promote mobility between universities, industry and other non-academic beneficiaries. In this respect, the UK has a critical mass and international reputation in acoustics which needs to be maintained and enhanced. Acoustics-related research in the UK is internationally leading and underpins key technological areas such as healthcare, manufacturing, defense, energy, digital communications and transport. However, the knowledge transfer and adoption of recent developments in physical acoustics, signal processing and numerical methods by industry and other end users (e.g. consultants and government bodies) needs improving. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there is no existing single point of access network/central hub in the UK which brings the key academic and industry players together. Acoustics-related research in the UK's universities is fragmented, often applied to specific topics and length scales and suffers from inadvertent duplication. As a result, it is difficult for industry to engage with, or understand what is happening in, academia, how acoustics research relates more widely to industry needs and who in academia is the right person or which organisation to engage with in order to solve a particular industry need. Secondly, academia is clearly failing to demonstrate to the end users the value of their acoustics-related research in applications, thus failing to overcome the sector inertia for their research to have a stronger non-academic impact. Thirdly, there is no network/central hub for the coordination of the acoustics-related research through which a university can engage beyond their very specific, parochial partners, disseminate their work more widely and efficiently to the sector and generate a future road map of research which bears support from a majority of end users.

We will establish a network for the wider coordination of acoustics-related research to enable better communication with industry and multiple avenues of research and innovation. It will support the EPSRC/UKRI Delivery Plan to promote the success of the UK's industry and academia through top quality research. This Acoustics Network aligns with the EPSRC expectation for a research network, which is "... expected to lead to new collaborative multidisciplinary research proposals and some may develop into virtual centres of excellence, providing critical mass of analytical expertise." The current RCUK/UKRI funding of acoustics-related research amounts to £94M which includes £62M support from the EPSRC. This funding covers research in general acoustics, audio engineering, ultrasonics and noise. Unlike other research disciplines, acoustics related research is not currently directly supported by an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT). However, there are several CDTs which can directly benefit from acoustics related research. Therefore, there is a clear need for better coordination for the activities in acoustics to reduce fragmentation and overlap, and to use existing and future funding streams more efficiently. This is important to ensure that the quality of the critical mass of the acoustics-related research in the UK continues to stay internationally leading in the foreseeable future. Given the importance of acoustics and the value of the research funding in this area, the Acoustics Network will serve to promote this research discipline and to communicate the ongoing work beyond the acoustics research community and to the general public. In this respect, the network will be able to establish a website, software depository, hold workshops and conferences, produce newsletters, use publications by Learned Societies and Trade Associations and social media to communicate their work much more widely that is currently done.

Planned Impact

There are four main beneficiaries from this network: (i) academia; (ii) industry; (iii) public; (iv) government. Some benefits will come from the enhanced collaboration between academic institutions in the UK working on acoustics related projects (see Academic Beneficiaries), industry which makes use of the results from acoustics related research and some government departments that use acoustics related research to enforce legislation and enable control of noise. Other benefits will come from the activities which are proposed to promote acoustics as an exciting research discipline. There will also be academic benefits of this network which are described in the Academic Beneficiaries section of this form.

At present, industry on this project is represented by companies working in the areas of airspace (e.g. Rolls Royce), automotive (e.g. John Cotton), engineering and manufacturing (e.g. Dyson, Armacell), noise (e.g. Adler Pelzer Group, Hoare Lea) and defense (e.g. Dstl, Thales and QinetiQ). The network will be open for any other companies to join and benefit from its activities. The main benefits from this network to industry will be access to the right academic expertise, training, facilities and software. This is particularly important for SMEs who often do not have the right academic and industrial expertise in-house, may not be aware of it and/or have limited resources to get the access to it. Industry will also benefit from the enhanced flow of new ideas, follow-on collaborative research and technology developments enabled by the network. In addition to technology advancements the network proposes a number of activities which will help to formulate better joint industry/academic research as advocated by the Special Interest Groups. These will translate advanced acoustics related research into wealth generation and societal solutions driven through innovation.

These government agencies will benefit through enabling better environmental legislation and pollution control which are based on more rigorous science and more efficient engineering solutions from which the general public will benefit. The project will benefit from the involvement of the UK's Knowledge Transfer Network (UK KTN). This will enable members of the network facilitate innovation efficiently through access to UK KTN funding for any feasibility or follow-on projects leading to impact. The EPSRC will benefit by funding higher quality research proposals with stronger impact potential, less duplication and a more even distribution of funding across the UK's academic base.

The general public will benefit from outreach activities which this network proposes. These activities are described in the Pathway to Impact document and are designed to achieve a higher visibility of acoustics related research. This work will lead to a better understanding by the general public and government of the actual role that acoustics has on the quality of life and innovation process in the UK and globally. This will help to attract more students of better quality to courses with acoustics element. More engineering/physics/mathematics graduates with a better training in acoustics will enable the academia to recruit the right people on research projects which depends heavily on the knowledge of acoustics. In this process future academic leaders will be developed for the benefit of the UK's science and engineering for the benefit of future innovation and country wealth.

In summary, the main accomplishments of this network will be: (i) new collaborations, knowledge and opportunities for innovation; (ii) new opportunities for advanced training of future research leaders in acoustics in line with the Investors in People standard; (iii) a higher national and international visibility of acoustics related research.


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