Western Mail Profiles: Dr Antonio J. Gil, Swansea University

‘How simulations help raise our understanding’

Dr Antonio Gil is a senior lecturer in the College of Engineering at Swansea University.

I came to Swansea nearly 10 years ago, after graduating in Spain as a chartered civil engineer.

I’ve always been fascinated that mathematics, physics and computing can be harnessed to gain insight into complex phenomena in nature, so I decided to come to one of the best places in the world for this line of research – the Civil and Computational Engineering Centre in the College of Engineering at Swansea University.

Over the past 30 years the development of computational engineering research has proven so successful that it has transformed all our lives, whether we know it or not.

Computational engineering is the development and use of carefully-written computer codes to simulate the physics of a particular engineering phenomenon. This often involves very large-scale mathematics, which can only really be solved using a supercomputer.

Computational engineering is now fundamental to manufacturing, the automotive and aerospace industries, design of civil engineering structures, such as bridges, dams and buildings, oil and gas pipelines, as well as the development of technology for new renewable energy sources, to name but a few.

The reason for developing computer codes for simulation, rather than, say, conducting experiments, is quite straightforward. Computer simulation of a problem can allow it to be studied in great detail, often enabling things to be learned that would not be possible through real-life experimentation.

Simulation also allows many possible scenarios to be tested very rapidly, allowing for faster development and prototyping in manufacturing.

Finally, by being able to ask “what if?” engineers are able to investigate groundbreaking new ideas in a risk-free and relatively inexpensive manner.

These days I work in an interdisciplinary research group of mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists. My particular areas of research are quite diverse, but are all linked by the fact that they share the same underlying physics.

This includes the simulation of new materials and analysis methods for cardiovascular medicine; new methods for the forming of complex titanium medical prostheses; new smart materials, which can be made into sustainability- friendly energy- harvesting devices, and the investigation of revolutionary new materials, such as graphene, which can end up being used in high-tech products such as smartphones.

To tie this research into real-world applications, I collaborate with a wide group, which includes cardiothoracic surgeons, industry colleagues and research scientists in Wales and beyond.

I find it really satisfying to know that some of my research has already had a direct impact – the methods I helped develop for improved forming of medical prostheses are now used on a daily basis in a major London hospital.

I hope my current and future research can continue to make a difference and improve the quality of life of people worldwide.

To contact Antonio please email A.J.Gil@swansea.ac.uk.

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on the 2nd January 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.