Dr Alberto Pirrera

MSc, PhD

Alberto Pirrera

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Job title: Senior Lecturer in Composite Structures
Division: Aerospace Engineering Department
Organisation: University of Bristol
Tags: Early Career Forum, Fellowship: Early Career Fellowship, University of Bristol
Related theme: Engineering Manufacturing the future


Alberto Pirrera is a Senior Lecturer in Composite Structures at the Department of Aerospace Engineering of the University of Bristol, where he received his PhD and where he is a member of the Advanced Composites Centre (ACCIS). He obtained his MSc in Aerospace Engineering at Università degli Studi di Palermo, Italy.

My Fellowship

History shows several examples of structural designs that, despite being at the forefront of current material technologies, missed out on remarkable engineering opportunities. Composite materials provide a modern example. One of their most remarkable features is the versatility that allows engineers to design not only a structure but also its constituent materials. However, partly due to their excellent specific stiffness, there is often the tendency to use them to replicate the well-known, less adaptable, behaviour of isotropic materials, thus missing the opportunity to exploit many of the benefits they could provide. Owing to the colour of carbon fibre composites, this modus operandi is known as the 'black metal' approach.

Similarly, structural design is usually limited to linear regimes. In other words, structures are often designed to be stiff and exhibit small displacements (for example, to respond linearly to loads). Designers usually avoid large displacements because they may cause unwanted shape changes and trigger the transition to nonlinear regimes, potentially leading to catastrophic and often sudden, uncontrolled failure. However, if we learnt to control such behaviour, it could actually be exploited for a benefit.

The aim of my fellowship is to explore the possibilities arising from nonlinear responses in structures. The ambition is to harness the properties of composite materials and deliver new design principles by removing the barriers imposed by current practice in engineering design. My objectives are the development of a new generation of adaptive/multifunctional structures working in elastically nonlinear regimes and the creation of novel paradigms for structural efficiency.

Career benefits of Fellowship

At this point in my career, the Fellowship and EPSRC’s support are essential to deliver my vision. The fellowship has allowed me to establish a research group and to initiate a new line of enquiry in the field of nonlinear structures. Working in this area gives me a great opportunity to broaden my expertise and establish myself as an independent research leader.