Dr John H R May

B.Sc., Ph.D.(Bristol)

  • BS8 1TR

1991 …2019

Research output per year

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Personal profile

Research interests

John May leads research in the Safety Systems Research Centre, which is a part of the South West Nuclear Research and Teaching Hub, in which he is a steering committee member. The SSRC studies risk and resilience in a new breed of highly complex systems built by man. Existing scientific and engineering techniques have been unable to describe or control these phenomena.

For example, it was previously thought to be the case that non-trivial software based systems were untestable, in the sense that testing could not provide meaningful quantitative assurance of software reliability. We have demonstrated that this not the case for a significant class of software, and have applied new statistical reliability testing techniques to critical nuclear systems, including reactor protection systems and smart devices. The latest research is enhancing the power of these techniques to demonstrate higher reliabilities and apply to a wider class of systems. 

Socio-technical systems also exhibit complex systematic failure behaviour, the result of which can be seen in repeated large industry accidents (Bunsfield, Macondo, Hatfield, Piper Alpha, etc.) The UK National Security Strategy classes these accidents as 'Tier 1' risks to the UK, alongside terrorist and cyber attacks. SSRC is developing new ideas for the control of dangerous accident precursors in large organisations.

The SSRC also works on a new method to evaluate risk, based on the 'J-value'. This can be used to prioritise mitigation activities and understand where best to allocate the costs of protecting against disasters. 

Within the University of Bristol, the SSRC is part of the Systems Centre, the Bristol-Oxford Nuclear Research Centre, and the South West Nuclear Hub.

External positions

Consultant, Heathrow Airport Holdings

1 Aug 2016 → …

consultant , AMEC

1 Dec 2015 → …

consultant, Altran

1 Feb 2015 → …

Independent Advisory Panel, UK Office of Nuclear Regulation

1 Oct 2014 → …

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Research Output

Coping after a big nuclear accident

Thomas, P. & May, J., Nov 2017, In : Process Safety and Environmental Protection. 112, p. 1-3 3 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial (Academic Journal)

Open Access
  • 4 Citations (Scopus)
    177 Downloads (Pure)

    Theoretical Feasibility of Statistical Assurance of Programmable Systems Based on Simulation Tests

    Chen, L. & May, J., 7 Aug 2017, Proceedings - 2017 IEEE International Conference on Software Quality, Reliability and Security Companion, QRS-C 2017. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), p. 630-631 2 p. 8004407

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)

  • Understanding organisational and cultural precursors to events

    Taylor, R., May, J., Weyman, A. & Carhart, N., 13 Oct 2017, In : Proceedings of the ICE - Forensic Engineering. 170, 3, p. 124-133 9 p., 2.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

    Open Access
  • 1 Citation (Scopus)
    291 Downloads (Pure)


    • 2 Advisory work for/on national or international committee or working group
    • 1 Advisory work for/on panel to industry

    BEIS activity to decide UK future priorities for nuclear safety & security research & development (Event)

    John H R May (Advisor)

    Oct 2017Jul 2018

    Activity: Membership typesAdvisory work for/on national or international committee or working group

    UK Office of Nuclear Regulation (External organisation)

    John H R May (Member)

    1 Oct 2014 → …

    Activity: Membership typesAdvisory work for/on national or international committee or working group

    Control & Instrumentation Nuclear Industry Forum (External organisation)

    John H R May (Contributor)

    2008 → …

    Activity: Membership typesAdvisory work for/on panel to industry