We will maintain this research area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio, reflecting the key contribution that underpinning Structural Engineering research makes to the UK construction sector.
As well as exploring the requirements of early-career researchers (ECRs), by the end of the current Delivery Plan this research area will be characterised by the following core themes:
- Sustainability: In particular, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by utilising green construction materials and improved design of structures using less material. We will encourage interdisciplinary projects extending to research areas such as Materials Engineering and Built Environment, spanning both engineering and chemistry aspects
- Resilient infrastructure: Researchers should investigate new methods for preventing damage, repairing ageing infrastructure and longer-life design. The community should continue to address challenges associated with structural resilience to hazards, incorporating multidisciplinary thinking (e.g. multi-scale approaches integrating all communities involved in designing, building, operating and using structures) and understanding ways to minimise economic losses
- Digital technologies: Collaboration with IT-based research areas will maximise recent growth in sensor technologies. Focusing on the use of digital technologies within Structural Engineering will increase development of smart infrastructure and monitoring capabilities
This area is strongly linked to the Ground Engineering and Built Environment research areas, especially in an infrastructure context. We encourage researchers to place their research in the context of the wider system, address common challenges and improve translation to the construction sector. They should work to maximise the impact of the investment in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC), and capitalise on the potential for UK leadership further strengthened by this investment.
We will work with the community to understand and address, where possible, any leadership or related skills challenges, particularly in relation to ECRs. We will address this alongside similar needs facing the Built Environment, Infrastructure and Urban Systems, and Ground Engineering research areas.
This is an established area of research characterised by a number of world-leading investments, with the construction sector contributing nearly 7% Gross Value Added to the UK economy. However, the rapid change towards a digital economy threatens to leave the UK behind if no action is taken (Evidence source 1). Further threats include continuing urbanisation, limited resources, climate change and population growth (Evidence source 2). Building on the strategy of the last Delivery Plan, then, there has to be increased focus on research in sustainability, infrastructure resilience and digital technologies.
These topics will remain of significant national importance and play a major role in addressing some of the fundamental challenges found in improving structural design and incorporating new materials. The Construction 2025 strategy targets reduced carbon emissions through novel construction materials and improved structural design (Evidence source 1). Climate change will affect structures in ways not yet fully understood and research into structures' resilience will bring advanced solutions. UK-based consultancies and contractor firms need novel innovation to maintain competitive advantages. Infrastructure asset owners will depend on research in all facets of civil engineering to keep networks in optimum condition.
Four-fifths of all construction-related science and engineering projects supported by EPSRC are delivered alongside industry partners. The Construction 2025 strategy, though, identified limited uptake of research by industry (Evidence source 1). It recommended that knowledge developed in the research community be made more visible in the wider construction industry.
Structural Engineering has a highly distributed research capacity across the UK, with multiple centres on structural analysis and health monitoring, materials and resilience. In addition, the UKCRIC will build up major Structural Engineering laboratories across the UK.
Two Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) directly align to the priorities of this research area, with a further four overlapping with other civil engineering areas. There has been a gradual increase in overall student numbers associated with this area that are supported through the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) and Industrial Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE). There is strong overlap with student training in the associated civil engineering research areas (e.g. Built Environment, Infrastructure and Urban Systems, and Ground Engineering). Skills provision is key to the wider construction sector.
This research area has a low number of EPSRC-funded ECRs, in terms of first grants and early-career fellows, with overall funded ECRs falling during the last Delivery Plan. This trend is reflected in other civil engineering-related areas.
This research area will deliver against Resilient, Connected and Productive Nation Outcomes, and particularly contribute to Ambitions including:
R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy
Innovative solutions can prevent damage and repair ageing infrastructure.
R5: Build new tools to adapt to and mitigate climate change
Development of new construction materials, improved infrastructure design for longer life and building-in increased resilience to hazards will contribute to this.
C1: Enable a competitive, data-driven economy
Incorporating digital technologies will address ground engineering challenges and help design novel structures.
C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things
Using sensor technology to automate measurement of structural performance in-situ can contribute here.
P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy
Decarbonising through development of green construction materials, improved and adaptive design of structures and new production techniques can all make a contribution.
- Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), Construction 2025: Industrial Strategy – Government and Industry in Partnership (PDF), (2013).
- B. Clarke, C. Middleton and C. Rogers, (2016), The Future of Geotechnical and Structural Engineering Research, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Civil Engineering, Vol.169, 1, 41-48.