Dr Nicola Symonds

Unit Head


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Find out about our latest capabilities and activities. You can also connect with us on LinkedIn for more updates.

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The power of erosion

This vivid image illustrates the power of erosion.

In combination, water and sand have strong erosive properties, as receding coastlines demonstrate. In an industrial context, at nC² we can test the effect of erosion on materials and components using our state-of-the-art sand/water slurry rig.

The image shows a strong steel sample that has been blasted with slurry perpendicular to the surface. The colours represent the amount of erosion that took place after just 2 hours of exposure. The middle of the sample was left untouched because of a cancelling out effect in the centre. The outside was not so lucky and a donut ring of material was eroded away.

To find out more about our erosion testing services, please get in touch with our expert team.

Mountbatten School students crack the code

Hurrah for the students at The Mountbatten School in Romsey, who answered our SOS call and recovered our stolen lab keys from the evil Professor Nogood! We set them our escape-room style challenge as part of the school’s Big Bang outreach day. They got stuck in with enthusiasm, working together to crack a series of science and engineering puzzles, each one revealing a code to unlock a box and ultimately retrieve the keys.

One teacher said: “Our students absolutely loved the tribology escape room! The hands-on tasks are engaging and educational, offering a perfect blend of fun and learning.”

And it was great fun for the nC² team too. All part of our mission to inspire new generations of scientists and engineers.

Close up on abrasion

Abrasion takes place when, during operation, mechanical components slide against other surfaces. To limit this type of damage, surfaces are protected with coatings.

At nC² we have specialist micro abrasion facilities to assess the abrasion resistance of coatings, including evaluating the multilayer thickness of a coating, as shown in this image.

If you’re looking for reliable and robust abrasion testing and analysis – perhaps to help select the best coating for a new product, improve a design where abrasion has caused failure, or set appropriate inspection and maintenance schedules – get in touch for a free initial consultation.

Learn more about our abrasion testing services.

Expanding our chemical analysis capabilities

We have a vast range of capabilities at our fingertips thanks to our ever-growing network of experts. For example, if your project involves elemental or isotopic analysis we can call on the specialist skills and knowledge of Professor Andy Milton, Dr Matthew Cooper and Dr Agnes Macey-Michalik at the Centre for Earth Research and Analysis Southampton (CERAS).

With a wealth of experience and a range of advanced facilities, they can optimise samples and select the right instruments to get the data you are looking for. Learn more about the CERAS team.

Metals under the microscope
Metallography is one of the many techniques we can use to build up a picture of a material’s properties for our clients. For example, this image shows the 3D microstructure of a 250um cube of wrought aluminium.

To understand a metal component you need to examine it in more than one direction or you won’t see the whole picture. Lots of wrought metals have anisotropic (strength and elongation) properties and this comes from non-equiaxed grain structure formed during cold working processes, such as extraction or rolling. In this case we put the views together digitally to give the client insights into the grain structure and its impact on the behaviour of the component. Find out more about our metallurgical analysis services.
nC² contributes to international maritime safety

Professor Nicola Symonds recently attended the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) Congress in Rotterdam to present the results of our work on the safe use of pilot ladders.

Ladder-related accidents claim the lives of maritime pilots and other seafarers every year. This was the first study to use mechanical testing to determine the safest way to tie off ladders; using our evidence, IMPA’s aim is to strengthen international standards and ultimately prevent injury and loss of life.

Find out more about the pilot ladders project.

Making it big!

Some BIG billboards for a project with big impact! We’re proud that our work supporting the conservation of HMS Victory is being highlighted across the city alongside other University of Southampton achievements. Our Director, Professor Nicola Symonds, is shown for scale! 

Learn more about our work on the HMS Victory project.

X-ray diffraction expertise

The best thing about being a University-based consultancy? It gives us access to unrivalled expertise and facilities on behalf of our clients. For example, Dr Mark Light, Head of the Materials X-ray Diffraction Facility, is our go-to specialist for any project with an XRD element.

With over 25 years’ experience in this field of materials characterisation, including numerous industry projects, he’s able to advise on optimal techniques and uses the Facility’s state-of-the-art instruments to get the data our clients need.

An Easter eggsperiment…

With Easter approaching, we set out to answer the questions on everyone’s lips… which is stronger, chocolate egg or chocolate bunny? And what would it look like if we put them in an Instron electromechanical axial testing machine? Watch the video to find out.

The winner was the bunny, which was much stronger than the egg, requiring 436 N of force to break, while the egg needed just 51 N. On closer inspection (between mouthfuls) we did spot that the bunny was made of thicker chocolate than the egg, which explains its added strength…

A very happy Easter from all of us at nC²!

Sharing materials failure expertise

Our Director Professor Nicola Symonds has been back in the classroom as an industry guest lecturer, sharing her extensive knowledge of materials failure and failure investigation with University of Southampton engineering students.

They are learning from one of the best! Internationally recognised for her expertise in failure and accident investigation, Nicola helps our industry clients solve failure problems, and is regularly asked to provide testing and analysis to the UK’s rail, marine, rail and air accident investigation bodies.

Find out more about Nicola’s expertise.

Our women engineers in the spotlight

As March draws to a close we are coming to the end of our celebration of nC²’s super-talented women, but not before we shine the spotlight on Rachel Triggs.

Role: Senior Consultant
Area of expertise: Corrosion control, paint and coatings testing
Career in a nutshell: Worked with nC² since 2016 as a contractor, then recruited as a consultant, after 15 years at the Ministry of Defence
Best thing about the job? “Our team ethos – we always support each other to ensure that we deliver the best results to our customers.”

Find out more about Rachel.

Sparking an interest in STEM careers

At nC² we’re keen to share our passion for engineering and inspire young people to go into the sector. Here’s Dr Jelili Bello and Sam Hambrook putting this into action at a careers day at Wyvern College in Eastleigh.

They talked about their own motivations and career paths, and their roles at nC2, hopefully sparking some new career ideas and encouraging pupils to pursue their interest in STEM.

Celebrating our talented women engineers

Throughout March we’re celebrating nC²’s brilliant women engineers, inspired by International Women’s Day 2024. This week, meet Professor Nicola Symonds.

Role: Director
Area of expertise: Failure/accident investigation
Career in a nutshell: Led nC² since its establishment in 2015, after 10 years working on accident investigations in the Ministry of Defence
Best thing about the job: “Leading, working, and having fun with such an excellent and diverse team.”
Most proud of: “Providing my expertise to support the five-year Air Accidents Investigation Branch investigation into the 2018 Leicester City Stadium AW169 helicopter crash, which was published in 2023.”

Find out more about Nicola.

A visit from the National Museum of the Royal Navy

It was great to welcome Jenna Taylor and Emry Eisaman from the National Museum of the Royal Navy. They came to drop off some samples for the HMS Victory project, so we took the opportunity to show them our capabilities – here they are with Dr Ben Cunningham in the Testing and Structures Research Laboratory. Always a pleasure to hear about the exciting conservation work NMRN is doing – we’re so proud to be part of it.

Celebrating our superwomen

Inspired by International Women’s Day 2024, our month-long celebration of the talented women in the nC² team continues. This time we recognise the skills and expertise of Sam Hambrook.

Role: Senior Engineering Technician
Area of expertise: Sample preparation, imaging, evidence tracking, lab management
Career in a nutshell: Joined nC² in 2019 – previous roles include yacht skipper and police officer!
Best thing about my job: “The variety of projects and having the expertise of others to call on.”

Find out more about Sam.

Calling all families! nC² needs you!

Our nC² lab keys have been stolen! We need some young sleuths to crack the code set by the dastardly Professor Nogood, so we can continue our vital work. Watch the video for the full story…

We hope you’ll share our plea for help with your little detectives, and join us on Saturday 16 March at Science and Engineering Day for our fun escape-room style challenge.

It’s part of a fantastic free day of activities, workshops, lab tours and live shows, with something for all ages to discover. We’ll be at the University of Southampton’s Boldrewood Campus, Building 176, level 1. Visit the Science and Engineering Day website for more details and free tickets.