Fiona WalportStructures Section
Supervised by Prof. David Nethercot and Prof. Leroy Gardner

Prior to starting her PhD, Fiona completed an MEng degree also in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College. She had an ICE QUEST scholarship, spending three interesting summers working in different design teams at Mott MacDonald, and before starting her UG degree also completed a Year in Industry working for DSTL. Fiona was awarded with an Imperial College President’s PhD Scholarship to undertake her studies.

Why did you decide to do a PhD in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering?

I loved my time at Imperial during my undergraduate degree, and was inspired to stay on and complete my PhD in the department also. My lecturers and peers were very encouraging and supportive of my continuing on, and having enjoyed my final year project, I decided that I wanted to gain a more in-depth fundamental understanding of structures, systems and materials through doctoral research.

Tell us about your PhD research

Stainless steel is currently widely used across a range of industries with its key advantage over ordinary structural carbon steel being its corrosion resistance and durability. Research into stainless steel has developed significantly over the last decade, enabling its increased use for structural purposes. Currently, although a number of design standards for stainless steel exist, the provisions and checks have generally been developed following, and in conjunction with, the carbon steel design rules. Stainless steel and carbon steel have distinctly different material characteristics and therefore it is important that the codes reflect these to ensure safe, efficient, and structurally sound design. The focus of my work will be on the global analysis of stainless steel frames and the development of beam-column design to allow for safe and efficient design. The extension and development of the continuous strength method, which is a deformation based design approach for metallic structures that offers improved design efficiency over current standards, and was devised in the Civil Engineering Department at Imperial College, will also be considered. Overall, the aim of my doctoral research will be to develop enhanced design rules to promote the wider use of stainless steel as a sustainable construction material.

What impact do you hope you research will have/what do you hope your research will lead on to?

With the growing need for resilient structures that are durable and resistant to extreme events, the use of stainless steel, with its excellent blend of properties, could help meet these future demands. By developing the industry design codes, stainless steel can be more widely used and help improve on the existing performance of infrastructure, fostering a sustainable and prosperous environment.

Does your research involve working with collaborators outside of the Department? If so who and why?

I recently spent some time at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, and will collaborate with them further on some of my research throughout my PhD.

What is a typical week like for you?

I am based within a large research group all focussed on steel, high strength steel and stainless steel structures. My work is primarily based on numerical modelling, and whilst we all work on different projects in the group, we collaborate and assist each other in different aspects of our work. I regularly meet with both my supervisors to present my work, as well as informally meeting more frequently to discuss smaller points.

How have your skills developed, both professional and personal?

Carrying out a PhD requires significant time management and self-discipline, and these are things that I have improved on since starting my PhD. I have been able to attend several conferences and meetings, and these have been excellent for both gaining a further insight into my research topic and field, as well as for networking and meeting other researchers and leaders in the field.   

What do you enjoy most about being a PhD in the Department?

Imperial is an intense environment, but also a hugely satisfying enriching place and I am very fortunate to be surrounded by peers, who unlike me, have travelled incredibly long distances from all over the world, and this diverse environment is truly inspiring and motivating.