‘Engineers need to stand up and take leadership in addressing climate crisis’

30 Oct 2019

Dr Jamie Goggins, NUI Galway. Image: Jamie Goggins

Dr Jamie Goggins of NUI Galway believes that while engineers have contributed to the climate crisis, they can now also lead a path to sustainability.

Dr Jamie Goggins is a senior lecturer at NUI Galway and a principal investigator at the SFI Centre for marine, climate and energy, MaREI, based at the Ryan Institute in Galway. He is a chartered engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in consultancy, construction, expert advisory work and research on many projects worldwide.

‘One could argue that engineering has had one of the biggest influences on the climate crisis, but also the biggest opportunity to help transition to a more resilient society’

What inspired you to become a researcher?

After I completed my undergrad at TCD, my desire was to work with the best architects and engineers around the world. I wanted to design buildings that showcased the designers’ creativity, innovation and understanding of building physics, people and place.

However, as I was nearing the end of my degree, the late Prof Simon Perry, who was chair of civil engineering at the time, put together a financial package to coax me into doing a PhD. Prior to this I had no intention of completing a PhD, but if I didn’t enjoy doing it, I thought I could just leave after a year.

I was privileged to be working with many of the key people involved in writing the seismic design code for composite and steel structures in Europe, as well as getting the opportunity to design and test a full-scale structure on an earthquake simulator in Athens.

I later accepted a job at BuroHappold in its Bath and London offices in the UK as a structural engineer, where I got the opportunity to work on lots of fantastic projects.

I returned to Ireland to work with a small structural engineering company in the west of Ireland. But just before the downturn in the economy, I got offered a faculty position in NUI Galway, which I accepted, mainly because I could see that the construction sector was slowing!

I thought that I would only stay in the university for a few years, but 11 years later I am still here leading a team of brilliant researchers and teaching and learning from fantastic students.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

I have just returned from Skopje, North Macedonia, after completing earthquake testing of a novel self-centring steel structure we developed at NUI Galway. We proved that our system is very effective when subjected to both small- and large-scale earthquakes.

The structure returns to its vertical position after an earthquake, keeping occupants of the building safe. It allows the damaged elements to be easily replaced and has huge commercial opportunity.

As we only used standard construction technology in our system, it is very cost effective, doesn’t require any specialist equipment or knowledge to construct and requires no maintenance. The cleverness of the system is in the detailing and how we put different standard components together. It can dissipate the energy from the earthquakes, but also eliminate residual drifts where buildings are left lying sideways after an earthquake, making them very difficult to repair.

Conversely, our world-leading large structures test cell that we developed in the MaREI centre at NUI Galway is available free of charge to companies and research organisations around the world through the MARINET2 Transnational Access programme.

This is one of the few test facilities in the world available for accelerated life testing of full-scale tidal turbine blades.

My team and I are collaborating with and testing for world-leading leading marine renewable energy companies, large aerospace structures and various construction technologies. We have also developed in-house advanced software, BladeComp, to design wind and tidal turbine blades.

My team and I are also working on a number of projects to evaluate the effectiveness of technologies for retrofitting existing buildings for structural, environmental and energy performance, as well as their influence on health, safety and comfort of building users.

It is estimated that more than 97pc of the EU building stock must be upgraded to achieve the 2050 decarbonisation vision. In Ireland, any dwelling receiving planning permission after 1 November 2019 should meet nearly-zero energy building standard.

In my research group, we are also using life cycle assessment to evaluate the environmental impact of various infrastructure over its lifetime. We are developing frameworks and pathways to reduce the negative environmental impact of products and infrastructure, such as buildings, roads and energy systems.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

We need to increase and diversify the talent pool available to the engineering profession and research community.

Children are natural engineers. They love to design and build things, using whatever they can get their hands on. With knowledge, innovation and creativity, engineers change the reality and future of all human beings.

We have developed various initiatives at NUI Galway targeted at children and young people to inspire them to become engineers, such as the annual ‘Engineering our Future: Family Fun Day’ as part of Engineers Week.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

The population of Ireland is expected to increase to almost 5.7m people by 2040, requiring at least an additional 500,000 new homes.

There is a huge challenge for us all to transition to a more sustainable future, restoring biodiversity and living within an ecological footprint that can be supported by the planet. We, as engineers, have had a significant impact on the earth that has us where we are.

One could argue that engineering has had one of the biggest influences on the climate crisis, but also the biggest opportunity to help transition to a more resilient society. We now need to stand up and take a leadership role in addressing climate breakdown and making our society more resilient.

Engineers and researchers can help Ireland become a world-leading beacon for sustainability and living community of best practice, enhancing Ireland’s competitiveness and international reputation. Researchers from a wide range of backgrounds have helped us to identify possible ways forward that will have meaningful impact and should continue to do so.

However, we all need to play our part in realising an equitable transition to a more sustainable future.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.