I’ve been in NUI Galway for most of my career.
Lecturer in mechanical engineering
National University of Ireland Galway
I find out how liquid, gas and heat move, in anything from artificial heart valves to wind turbines to aeroplane engines.
I’m a mechanical engineer who became, partly, a biomedical engineer. I’m especially interested in the movement of liquid, gas and heat. This is important in the design all kinds of machines – cars, power stations, medical equipment, factories. Aeroplanes can fly because of the way air flows around their wings, and the entire human body depends on the way that blood flows.
Beautiful fluid dynamics! A computation of air flowing around a wing (viewed end-on).
Swirling flow through a heart valve, pictured in our lab model with laser light.
I work as a university lecturer. Part of my job is research – trying to crack problems that haven’t been solved before. For example, with other engineers in NUI Galway, I’m doing experiments to improve understanding of how blood flows through an artificial heart valve. This could lead to the design of a better valve. In another project, we’re making software to calculate how fluid flows in almost any situation.
The other main part of my job is teaching. Some of it is in lectures, and some of it is through projects and lab work. Here’s a video of students completing a project in one of my classes.
Flow through a heart valve again, based on images like the one above, with a lot of analysis. Black curves show how the blood flows, and the background colours show the stress or damage that blood cells experience (red is high stress, blue is low). The black shape on the left is a part of the valve.
My Typical Day
Teaching, helping a student on a research project, reading or writing reports, simulation or analysis work at the computer, experiments in the lab…
On a typical day I have one or two classes with anything from 50 to 250 students. I spend a bit of time preparing for that, and if I’m organised, I’ll prepare in advance for the next day’s teaching. A lot of teaching happens in the lab as well, so I could be in there for a few hours, supervising and helping students. I also meet students one-to-one to talk about their project work, which is a big part of the learning experience for student engineers.
Most days also I’ll meet with one or more of the researchers in my team. These are usually advanced students doing a Ph.D. We talk in detail about their experiments, computer simulations, or design work, and plan the next stages of work. It’s very satisfying to get stuck into a hard technical discussion – sometimes a (polite) argument – and come out of with better understanding. This is how a lot of problems get solved and decisions are made. Less often, I do research myself, which usually consists of a lot of programming and running simulations. In summer there’s no teaching, and a lot more time for all this research.
What I'd do with the money
I’d put it towards the Geec, the ultra-efficient car that we’re building in NUI Galway.
I’d put the money into the Geec, a student-staff project in my university to build the most energy-efficient car in Ireland. In May 2015 the car will go to Rotterdam for Shell Eco-marathon Europe, a competition for over 200 cars, all designed and built by students. The prize money would help to buy parts and materials for the car and bring it to the race.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, persistent, impatient.
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
Developing unique software for simulating fluid flow, with students and researchers over the last 10 years.
What or who inspired you to become an engineer?
My Dad and various teachers. Flight, in air and space. The pleasure of figuring things out. The potential of engineering to make life better!
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nothing interesing – sorry!
If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?
I’d be useless at almost anything else, but maybe if I started again I could be some kind of musician.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
More time in the day, curry every day, safe sustainable energy for all (thanks to a technological breakthough by me).
Tell us a joke.
What’s blue and smells like red paint? …Blue paint.