Dr Hari Arora

Explosions caused by cosmological and volcanic activity shaped the natural world. For centuries manmade explosions have continued to impact humanity in a predominantly destructive and chaotic manner. Our research focuses on injury biomechanics to improve how injures are treated and develop optimal protective materials. We develop experiments and models of both structural and biomaterial behaviour in blast. Explosions can result in a spectrum of contrasting outcomes: instantly catastrophic (non-survivable), debilitating/life-changing (survivable), psychological (invisible) and social/societal (wide-reaching).

My research group focus on blast lung injuries. During the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts, 80% of deceased were found to have some lung injury. While in 17% of deceased, lung injury was the cause of death. We study detailed lung biomechanics to describe the residual mechanical behaviour of injured lung. Such methods are also relevant to the study of lung health and disease: in the UK >10,000 people/week are diagnosed with lung disease.

We use imaging methods including synchrotron tomography (working at Diamond Light Source in the UK and SPring8 in Japan), to characterise in three dimensions how the microstructure is damaged by blast. Synchrotrons provide very bright X-ray light, 106 times brighter than normal X-ray sources, which allows us to image fast and at high resolutions. We use such images to create 3D computational models and in manufacturing physical (3d-printed) models to study lung biomechanics. The Creativity Fellow will have access to these images and be able to visit and work at the facilities at Swansea University (micro-CT facility within the Advanced Imaging of Materials lab) and Diamond Light Source to learn the imaging process and related activities. 

The blast itself is quite an event. We routinely perform both lab-scale and full-scale blast experiments at MoD test ranges. Tests typically use up to 100 kg TNT equivalent charges. We use high-speed photography (>10kfps) to characterise how materials behave and how the blast wave propagates and rebounds off surfaces. We use methods such as digital image correlation to capture full-field colour maps of how materials fail during a blast. The Creativity Fellow will have access to >10 years’ worth of blast footage as well as data from collaborating groups working in blast. The Fellow will also be welcome to join the team and take part in a full-scale blast trial, to experience the real thing – even potentially run an experiment in the field as well as in the lab. We open our new lab space summer 2019 within the state-of-the-art £35 million IMPACT centre.

Explosions can differ in size, severity and context (conflict, terrorism, landmines or industrial accidents). In some cases, there are obvious injuries and in others they are nearly unobservable but linger in the background for years. In some cases, the injury triggers a chain reaction of other injury mechanisms (e.g. head injury leading towards respiratory distress syndrome – apparently unlinked events but linked through the physiology). In some cases, the patient survives and recovers after a course of rehabilitation, but psychological trauma remains. People can be displaced by conflict and emotional trauma, resulting from the experience of a blast. There is a complete spectrum of outcomes, with many aspects untold in the mainstream media. Our research group interacts with former military personnel who have sustained injuries. The Fellow will have the opportunity to meet with survivors of blast injury to learn about their experience and challenges.