Abhijit Kalbhor is a doctoral researcher at TU Eindhoven (TU/e) working on developing a computationally efficient modeling strategy for the prediction of soot formation in the aero-engine combustor environments. In this interview he talks about what motivates him to help improve the design of better aero-engines and why he switched from industry to academia.
You are working on improving the design of aero-engines. Is this something you always wanted to do?
I was passionate about engineering from a very young age. I enjoyed tackling the issues encountered in the design, development, and maintenance of practical systems during my academic projects, internships, and previous employment. I was especially fascinated by various paradigms of computational techniques in understanding the inherent physics of different processes associated with these systems, which inspired me to pursue a career in the field of CFD. Therefore, as a progressive step to my career, I decided to seek a doctorate to expand my research capacity in addressing challenges emerging in the sufficiently accurate and industry accordant applications of efficient computational techniques.
What is your motivation for pursuing research in this area?
I had an inclination and aptitude towards thermo-fluid sciences and developed an interest in the field of combustion during my master's. However, when I decided to pursue doctoral studies in combustion, I chose to contribute to the research on combustion generated emissions. The underlying motivation for this came from the fact that the clean combustion technology has become a primary agenda in combustion research due to climate change. I believe research is more gratifying when it benefits to address the formidable issues that impact the environment and society. Hence, through my research, I aspire to improve and discover new computational methodologies for futuristic combustion systems that can help us in our pursuit of a clean environment.
You are originally from India. What benefits did you see in pursuing a PhD abroad?
There were a couple of reasons to pursue a PhD abroad. The most important was to expand my research network and gain more international exposure, which I guess is instrumental in academics. I was fortunate enough to find a research topic aligned with my interests at TU/e under the ESTiMatE project. Moreover, I was interested in working on efficient combustion modeling techniques such as FGM, and TU/e was a perfect destination for my endeavors. I was also enthusiastic about experiencing new work culture, research collaborations which I might have missed to a certain extent if I had stayed in India.
Have you encountered any challenges in pursuing your research career?
I would say the main challenge for me was to mentally prepare myself for a research career when I decided to leave industry for academics. Through experience, I learned research is a continuing process that demands patience, persistence, skills, and a great level of determination. Besides, the process of finding a PhD position aligned with my interests and proper financial support was a notable challenge I faced while pursuing my career goal.
Could you tell us a bit about your work in industry? What made you decide to switch over to academia?
I worked as an Operations Officer (Engineering) in BPCL, a public sector oil marketing company in India, for a year. My responsibilities mainly included ensuring the smooth functioning of the plant machinery and supervising the team carrying out routine maintenance work. During my tenure, I contributed to projects on earthing network renovation, tank farm automation, new firewater engine, and oil storage tank commissioning, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed my work, hence leaving the industry was a bit of a tough decision. However, I had an interest in pursuing higher studies in aerospace engineering, and I also got the opportunity to study in India’s premier institution, IISc. I thought I would enjoy academic research more than industrial work. Hence, I decided to switch over to academia.
What do you do within the ESTiMatE project?
My activities within the ESTiMatE project mainly deal with the development and implementation of a detailed soot model coupled with tabulated chemistry in a CFD solver for prediction of soot in aero-engine combustors through high-fidelity simulations. Also, I will be collaborating with ESTiMatE consortium partners for the validation of the developed modeling framework with the experimental measurements.
How do you like it so far?
I feel fortunate to be a part of the ESTiMatE project, as I get the opportunity to interact with leading researchers from diverse research areas working together towards accomplishing the same goal. The project is also very well organized and effectively managed through regular meetings. Frequent discussions on the progress is an enriching experience, as we get acquainted with the multidisciplinary approach of the project. For me, collaborating with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center on soot model development has also been a great learning experience.
What do you hope to achieve in your career in the long run?
After my doctoral studies, I aim to become a faculty member in academia. Since combustion modeling is playing a paramount role in gas turbine designs, the industry is in critical need of engineers who have exposure to cutting-edge modeling research. Hence, I plan to establish a research and teaching program in aerospace propulsion technologies at a premier research institution that will not only train excellent engineers but also thrive to deliver low-emission combustion technologies to society.