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Department of Engineering

PhD student secures prizes in Sir Michael Marshall Young Persons Lecture Competition

PhD student secures prizes in Sir Michael Marshall Young Persons Lecture Competition

Isabel (pictured second left) is presented with her prizes by Sir Michael Marshall (centre), Chairman of the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group.

PhD student Isabel Vallina Garcia has won the Royal Aeronautical Society’s (Cambridge branch) annual Young Persons Lecture Competition.

Apart from being excellent at her research, Isabel has a real talent for communication and I’m delighted that this has been recognised by the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Professor Babinsky, Isabel's supervisor

Isabel was presented with the Sir Michael Marshall Award Trophy at the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group head office earlier this year. She also received £200 and a further £100 prize as a result of winning her age category.

Isabel was required to give a 20 minute lecture on an aeronautical-related subject of her choice. She chose to present material on her PhD which covers the aerodynamics of commercial vehicles. A panel of senior engineers drawn from the Branch Committee and Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group assessed her performance against strict criteria.

The panel, in addition to crowning Isabel the overall winner, also awarded her a Certificate of Merit in the Society’s N E Rowe National Lecture Competition. The certificate will be presented to Isabel at a ceremony to be held on Monday 26 November at the Society's headquarters in London. 

"Since I was competing against more mature and experienced candidates, some of whom had already moved on to postdoc positions or had started working already, it came as a big surprise winning these awards," said Isabel. "It was also a very good opportunity to practice presenting my work to a technical audience, which included people who were not necessarily experts in my field, while gaining confidence in public speaking and receiving valuable feedback."

Isabel carries out her PhD research at the EPSRC Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (SRF) and is supervised by Professor Holger Babinsky. She is investigating a lorry’s aerodynamic drag, focusing on its underbody flow – currently an area of few investigations. Testing is conducted in a water tow tank, which establishes correct ground conditions, using a detailed 1/10th scale lorry model to investigate rear side-skirt and bumper flow. The aim is to improve the aerodynamic properties of the trailer underbody.  

“A considerable proportion of a lorry’s aerodynamic drag is attributed to its underbody. Nevertheless, very few investigations have previously considered the fundamental physics of the underbody flow and hence there is little direction for the effective design of underbody drag-reducing devices," she said.

“I’m currently investigating the interaction between the underbody and the wake flows. There is evidence to suggest that the extent to which the underbody is blocked by components, such as secondary fuel tanks or air cylinders, leads to different wake topologies. It is of interest to classify and to be able to identify these distinct flow classes and their associated features, since this will enable us to implement flow control strategies with drag-reducing purposes effectively.

“My study has found that flat-plate bumpers increase aerodynamic drag and that a combination of mid and rear side-skirts reduces drag further than mid side-skirts alone. Rear side-skirts have a greater impact when a flat-plate bumper is attached." 

Professor Babinsky said: “Apart from being excellent at her research, Isabel has a real talent for communication and I’m delighted that this has been recognised by the Royal Aeronautical Society.”

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