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Course Introduction

An introduction to the course : Understanding Super Structures presented by Eann Patterson.
We are surrounded by structures that carry loads. Both man-made structures such as the buildings around me the ships on the river and the aircraft passing overhead. But also natural structures that support life such as my skeleton and the stems and roots of a plant. But many of these structures function so well that we barely notice them unless we are unlucky and one fails. In this course we are going to explore why things don’t fail whats the relationship between form and function and how to design super structures. My name is Eann Patterson and I teach engineering at the University of Liverpool.
Together in this five-week course we are going to find out about how engineers design structures for you to live in - drive in and fly in. Everybody needs structures. Structures literally support life. Without structures we would just have a random heap of parts. So we will look at everyday examples of structures functioning around us. Each week is structured around a series of audio recordings so that you can listen to us on the move or sitting quietly at home. The audio recordings are supported by articles that will explore and explain the concepts in more detail. I will introduce each week in a short video.
And I will also use videos to explain worked examples of structural analysis - there will be at least one worked example towards the end of each week - using the concepts explored during the week. To support you we will moderate on-line discussions on understanding super structures. This week we will start by looking at the connections between form and function how forces flow and some elegant structures including some stadia and bicycle wheels. We will look at how we can use Newton’s laws to analysis simple structures. And there is a simple practical exercise for you to explore some ideas. Next week we will explore how structures absorb and transmit energy. We will introduce the concepts of stress and strain.
And we look at the relationships between them in bridges domes eggs and the bones of your body. And there will be another practical exercise for you to do at home.
In week 3 we will move on to structures that bend. And also talk about redundancy in structures. We will use a tree-house bicycles and dinosaurs as examples. In week 4 - we will look at material performance and how structures fail. There will be a bit of food theme because we will use sausages and chocolate as everyday examples - but not at the same time. In the last week we will look at risk and resilience. And how we design with the unknown forces associated with structures on the move. We will talk about how we make something affects its structural performance. And well finish with a brief look at emergent behaviour in complex systems.

A very warm welcome to our course, ‘Understanding Super Structures.’

The course is aimed at anyone with a desire or need to learn more about the mechanics of solids and structures. We are surrounded by both man-made and natural structures that carry loads. This elementary course will introduce the mechanics of solids and structures that govern the performance of these critical structures. GSCE-level or equivalent knowledge of Physics and Mathematics will be assumed and Everyday Engineering Examples will be a feature of this course.

Each week is structured around a series of audio steps that will introduce new ideas. The audio steps are supported by articles that will explore and explain the concepts in more detail. And there will be example classes in which we will show you how the concepts are used in engineering analysis. We will provide you with some do-it-at-home lab classes so you can experience some of the ideas and concepts. You will be able to share your results with other learners on the course. To support you, we will keep an eye on on-line discussions on structures in our everyday life. Although we won’t be able to respond to every question, we’ll endeavour to reply to the most popular queries. If you agree with another learner’s question or comment, why not ‘Like’ it, or ‘Follow’ fellow learners

Here is the chance to find out a little more about the team that will be guiding you through this course. It might be a good idea to ‘follow’ them so you can find their comments more easily in the forthcoming discussions.

Lead Educator

I am Eann Patterson Lead Educator and responsible for the course content. I am an engineering professor at the University of Liverpool with thirty years experience of teaching engineering science. Since 2011 I have held the A.A. Griffith Chair of Structural Materials and Mechanics in the School of Engineering in Liverpool and between 2011 and 2016 I was the recipient of a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. I started my university career at the University of Sheffield as an undergraduate eventually becoming a Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In 2004 I moved to the USA with my wife and four children and became the Chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University.

While at MSU I got involved in the ‘DEEP project’ on transforming the engineering curriculum in collaboration with a consortium of US universities lead by Johns Hopkins University and funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). Out of that project came the concept of ‘Real Life Examples’ for teaching engineering in a context that was familiar to all students which I hope to do on this course. I also edited a series of booklets of Real Life Examples in Fluid Mechanics, Dynamics, Solid Mechanics and Thermodynamics. These examples are now available through my blog RealizeEngineering. I frequently teach at workshops for my academic colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic on how to engage students using everyday or real life examples.

This is not my first venture in front of the camera – as part of the NSF project ‘ENGAGE I made a series of videos about using everyday examples in the classroom to engage students and explain basic principles of engineering science; and an early online course on ‘Energy – Thermodynamics of Everyday Life’. This online course is heavily based on the first year undergraduate course in Mechanics of Solids. I hope you will also enjoy it and find it stimulating, interesting and useful.


Shirley Eseigbe will be helping Eann with the Q&A sections of this course. She will also be present throughout the course so you may see her thoughts appear on the comments boards.


Phil Walker is your host. He works as a Learning Technologist’s at the University’s eLearning Unit and is here assisting Eann with the run of this course. The host can help assist you if you have any technical problems. Please be aware, it can take time to respond to queries, but we will do our best to get back to you.

Now it’s your turn.

Take a moment to introduce yourself in the comments section below and tell us a little bit about where you are from and why you joined this course. You can also fill out our pre-course survey here.

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Understanding Superstructures

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