Alumnus wins prize for PhD thesis on ocean wave behaviour

James Steer, who recently completed his PhD on the behaviour of ocean waves at the School of Engineering, has won the UK Fluids Network (UKFN) Prize for best PhD thesis in Fluid Mechanics.

James’ winning thesis, ‘An Experimental Study of Wave Dispersion and Stability in Crossing Seas and on Sheared Currents’, used a combination of laboratory experiments and theoretical models to investigate how current and wave directions in the sea affect the formation of rogue waves, a phenomenon that is still not fully understood.

The UKFN dissertation prize is awarded annually and attracts submissions from doctoral students across the UK. James was one of three overall winners, who each won a cash prize of £200. 

Understanding extreme waves

James first undertook experiments at University College London to show the mechanism by which currents, such as those found in Scotland’s Pentland Firth, increase the risk of experiencing extreme waves.

His experiments at the FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility followed on from this work to confirm that rogue waves can survive for much longer than previously thought if the waves that come together to create them travel at different angles. 

Career summary

James’ thesis represents the culmination of four years of doctoral study at the School’s Wind and Marine Energy Systems Doctoral Training Centre under the supervision of Dr Ton van den Bremer and Professor Alistair Borthwick. 

Before studying at Edinburgh, James gained a Master's in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Liverpool. Following the completion of his PhD in summer 2019 James now works at University College Dublin (UCD) as a post-doctoral research assistant on the wave breaking research project HIGHWAVE. 

Improving "safety of life at sea"

Commenting on the prize, James said “I feel extremely privileged to have won this award and I owe my supervisors, Ton and Alistair, a debt of gratitude! I sincerely hope my work at The University of Edinburgh is expanded on by future researchers to further improve the safety of life at sea.”

Dr. Ton van den Bremer, formerly Chancellor's Fellow at the School and now Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, said, "James wrote a superb thesis reporting on high-quality experiments he performed at University College London and Edinburgh's FloWave in which he was able to observe a number of previously predicted surface gravity wave phenomena for the first time. James is a highly organised and talented scientist with a promising career ahead of him!"

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The figure shows the X-shaped wave structure with an extreme wave at its centre which was observed for the first time in FloWave.
The figure shows the X-shaped wave structure with an extreme wave at its centre which was observed for the first time in FloWave.
James Steer
James Steer