May 21 2019

From 16-18 May, the Department of Electronic Engineering collaborated on an exhibition at the Tate Modern with other departments from across the College for the first time. We recently caught up with Professor David Howard, to discover more about Electronic Engineering's involvement in Making Moves: Three Positions.

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the Department of Electronic Engineering?

I am the Founding Head of Royal Holloway’s new Department of Electronic Engineering. We admitted our first cohort of undergraduates in September 2017 and my role has been to set up the department from scratch including writing the first versions of all taught modules and activities that the students will take part in during their time with us. In addition, I have been involved in the design of the new Shilling Building, recently formally opened by Dame Professor Anne Dowling, which is a fine example of spaces dedicated to teaching electronic engineering in the modern world. This has been, and continues to be, an exciting time for me and the department as we take up the challenges of teaching the higher years of teaching (we have a first and second year in place at present).

2. Electronic Engineering was involved for the first time at the ‘Making moves: Three positions’ exhibition at the Tate Modern. What was this exhibition was about, and how did you collaborate with the Royal Holloway Choir on this project?

The exhibition is about bringing people into the Tate Modern to explore aspects of the building and the exhibitions. In our case, we are exploring human voice production in the context of the wonderful acoustics of the power station spaces within the building such as the Turbine Hall and the Tanks. We are working with the choir on aspects of understanding better human voice production in the context of singers in training who are exploring and developing their own voices for careers in vocal performance. Royal Holloway is privileged in having such a wonderful resource in its Chapel Choir who are renowned externally for their performances and recordings.

3. We also understand that a book you co-edited, ‘The Oxford Handbook of Singing’ was recently published. Could you tell us about the publication and how it’s related to the exhibition?

The Oxford Handbook of Singing is a volume of some 60 papers that describe how humans can use their voices effectively as singers in the context of results from research and experiences teaching singing. It relates to the exhibition in terms of the ‘micro’ exploration of voice production where the main elements of singing are explored: breathing, posture, sound production from the larynx and the acoustics of the vocal tract (mouth and nose). Whilst speaking is something we basically take for granted, the ability to sing well usually requires some advice and practice. Choral singing is a very popular activity in the modern world and I am involved and make use of my knowledge as the conductor of Feltham Choral.

4. Do you play any musical instrument? If not, what do you wish you could play?

I play the keyboard and am the organist at St Mary’s in Thorpe. I have played the organ since I was 14 having been fascinated by the engineering involved in such a vast ‘machine’. I would like to have a session on some of the largest organs around such as the Albert Hall or the Royal Festival Hall – maybe one day!

5. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the Department of Electronic Engineering?

The opportunity to influence the development of a department from scratch is what brought me to Royal Holloway. I have been instrumental in setting the backdrop to the department’s way of working in terms of placing creativity at the heart of our engineering work. I coined the phrase ‘creativity first, science follows’ which has become our overall slogan describing the overall engineering process that we strive for in all our work, including the four projects that our undergraduates carry out during years 1 and 2 culminating in presentations to either a Dragons’ Den of external engineers or a Managing Director figure. Encouraging real-world skills like this is at the heart of preparations for working life as an engineer, and we look forward to seeing the fruits of this as we graduate our first cohorts of professional engineers in the future.