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Posted in March 2012

Professor Interviews- Dr. Arvind Gangoli Rao

So here’s the second interview of my ‘Professor Interviews’
series. This one’s with the professor of my ‘Propulsion and Power’ course. It
doesn’t really get more Aerospace than this. Propulsion and Power deals with,
well, mainly engines.  And the professor
I had a liking to teaches the Aircraft Engine part of the course. Now it’s kind
of a wonder that he’s one of my favourite professors since I’m not really
inclined towards the aircraft side of things. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s
the fact that he’s Indian. Maybe it’s because I’ve actually got everything in his lectures. Maybe it’s
because he once famously quoted on a vocally tiring day ‘Women speak 7000 words
on average in a day. Men speak about 2000. This is my fifth lecture today so
bear with me.’

And now, Dr. Arving Gangoli Rao! (Warning: He doesn’t like details much)

 

Q1.
Let’s start with the beginning. Where and what did you study during your higher
education?
Ans:- I did my M.Tech
(Master of Technology) and PhD in Aeropsace engineering at IIT Bombay, India.

 

Q2.
Since you’ve mentioned India, what are the major differences you can see in the
higher education back home and over here in Delft. Though your experience here
has mostly been from the professor’s point of view.

Ans:-
I am not sure if I can answer this question correctly. I think that here the
freedom in  choosing your courses and
defining your individual track is more than in India.  Also we use more active teaching techniques
over here.

 

Q3.
The course you teach me, ‘Propulsion and Power’, is a very typical Aerospace Engineering
course dealing with aircraft and spacecraft engines. What drew you to this
particular field of study?

Ans:-
I was fascinated by aircrafts from an early age in my life. During my masters,
I choose the propulsion track. I found aero engine as a fantastic piece of
engineering.  I was amazed by the amount
of thrust which these engines produce. 
As Frederick Rentschler, the founder of Pratt & Whitney once said, “
The
best airplanes can only be designed around the best engines
”.

Q4. Which would you consider
as your favourite aircraft engine and why?

Ans:-
this is a very difficult question
J because every engine
is customised to meet the requirements of the aircraft. In civil engines, I
find GE90 as a good engine. It has the world record of being the highest thrust
producing engines. In military engines, I find Pratt and Whitney, F119 engine,
used in F22 facinating.

 

Q5.
Having attended your lectures, I’ve noticed that you quite often ask students
questions during the lectures. This is not very common with some other lectures
I have attended. How important do you think it is to have this kind of
interaction during a lecture ?

 Ans:-
yes, you are right.
  I like to interact
with students. I like when students ask question. When I teach, my goal is not
to finish a given chapter but to make the students understand the underlying
physical principles.
  That is also the
reason why many a times I am not able to finish the slides that I had planned
for.
  I believe that quality is more
important than quantity and that’s also the reason why every year the contents
of the course is updated or modified.
  I
also like to use videos/ clips/ animations. It has been my experience that the
students understand the physical principles better. 

 

Q6. What would you call the most memorable time of your life as a student
and/or working professionally?

Well that went better than expected! And to all you cynics
out there, I got an extra bonus point. Go write a blog sometimes. It might help
you academically.

Thank you Dr. Rao!

 

Tot Later!

 

 

My Time at DARE -The SRP Launch

It was time leave for the SRP launch.

DARE’s official launches happen at a Dutch military base in
t’Harde.  It’s located in the quaint
sleepy countryside (apart from the yearly blast of rockets that DARE and others
launch every year).

My team and I, along with other DARE members and first time
SRPers drove down to the launch site on a sunny Thursday afternoon. The wind
was uncharacteristically shy and it didn’t look like it was going to rain. Perfect.

We reached the military base by late afternoon and proceeded
to set up DARE’s custom launch tower. Not the most exciting part of the launch
but it was cool to see and work on some of the vital yet unnoticed details that
go into getting a successful launch. Once the tower was up and some preparations
done, we headed to a camping lodge kind of area close to the base where we’d be
accommodated for the night. No wonder we were advised to bring along sleeping
bags.

The lodge was basically two sizeable halls connected to each
other spotted with a few couches and a few long tables. The teams and other
DARE members placed their respective bags inside and proceeded to make some
final last minute upgrades to the rockets.  Ours required some adjustments to the servo
motor that would eventually help in the parachute deployment. The electronics
guys at DARE tried their best to make it work perfectly. But there was
something abuzz outside the lodge.  

There was a bonfire set up! It was quite cool. Members had
gathered wood from nearby and had made a pretty decent bonfire. We all sat
around it and talked and drank. There was more fire to
come, though this time of a different kind.

A fellow DARE member and future president, Wouter, surprised
everyone with a dazzling display of fire dancing/breathing. Yes, that kind. We were quite blown away and
late in the night decided to rest for the launch that was going to happen the
next day.

      

Perfect Pre- Launch Day                                                                                 Wouter with some entertainment 

Friday morning couldn’t have been different from the
previous day. It was cold, wet and misty. Not the perfect conditions for a
launch but we powered on anyway.

After breakfast we headed to the base and proceeded to
prepare our rockets for the launch. The final preparations included fitting the
DARE SRP solid propellant and properly folding the parachute into place. After
neatly packing the parachute and motor in place, it was time.

As our team was called upon, we made our way down to the
launch site to place our rocket on the launch tower. We posed for a few
photographs and placed the rocket on the tower. After that we made our way to
the viewing area which was about fifty metres away from the launch tower (you know,
safety).

       

The Contenders                                                        PRS+Meat52                                                  Martin and the Ruins

It was a tad crowded so I climbed up on to an ancient and
rusted military tank (probably from the second world war). Then the count down
began. This was it, what we had worked for in the past year. The rocket lifted
off quite nicely and made its way up. I lost track of the apogee due to the
slight drizzle and clouds and was hoping for the parachute to deploy and our
rocket to come down safely. That’s when I heard Martin’s laughter. It’s uncannily
distinct and unforgettable, and very
characteristic of him. He had spotted the rocket’s descent. And as I had feared
it came crashing down. So much for the safe landing. It was more of an omelette.

We then got back the ruins of our rocket. The egg was no
more, though the smell was there. The body tube had been pretty much shredded
to pieces and the parachute was still packed the way I had left it. It was anticlimactic,
but a god learning experience. We laughed it off and then my eye caught
something shiny. The fins! They were completely intact and only one of them was
slightly bent. I took solace in that and waited for some of the other teams’
rockets to lift off.

Not so surprisingly, two teams did pretty damn well and had
their eggs completely intact! Damn electronics, if only. J

When the launch was over, packed up the launch tower and
other equipment and headed back to Delft.  

I was satisfied with the years’ experience and watching our
rocket lift off quite well (though coming down was a problem).  I wanted to stay on.

What was next? Maybe CanSat?

 

Tot Later!

 

 

Utrecht Unexpected

I opened my eyes and instantly reached for my phone to check
the time. It read 12:40. I was disappointed. I was probably going to miss the
Holi celebrations back in Delft. I had woken up in Utrecht, about an hour away
from Delft by train.

On Saturday afternoon, after a practicing with my band, I
headed to my friend Martin’s place to work on an assignment that’s due this
week. We worked on it till about 6 in the evening and decided to maybe go watch
a movie. Then, just as we were getting ready to leave, Eray (a friend of Martin’s)
suggested that we go to Utrecht. Martin looked at me and asked me if I was up
for it. Since I didn’t really have anything planned for the night, I said ‘sure’.

We reached Utrecht at night and met Martin and Eray’s common friend Lora, who
was our unofficial guide for the night. We instantly took a liking to the city.
Utrecht has quite a vibe. It’s lively and there are students all over at all times
of the day and night. We walked around for a bit and then decided to head to a
bar.

The bar was packed with students and the tables and chairs
had been removed to make way for a dance floor. After a couple drinks, a little
bit of dancing, and talking to random people we decided to head ‘home’. But of
course, we had to get something to eat before that!

Utrecht, like Delft and probably every other student city in
the Netherlands, has a few eating joints that are open till early hours of the
morning. Taking full advantage of that fact, we got some fries and waited for a
Taxi back to Lora’s place. Lora had been kind enough to agree to accommodate us
in her living room.

Once we got there, we took our respective couches and called
it a night.

Now the thing is that on Sunday afternoon, there was
supposed to be a celebration on the TU Delft campus for an Indian festival
Holi. I was looking forward to it and expected to be awake by around 10 so I could
catch a train back to Delft for the celebration. But as you can guess, I woke
up a couple of hours later, late enough to miss the Holi celebrations in Delft.

Since I couldn’t really
do anything about it, I didn’t let it get to me. So after Martin and Eray woke
up from their couches as well, we did what anyone would do. Coffee. Lora and
her roommates, very hospitable people, talked with us and joked around while we
had coffee and made plans for the rest of the Sunday.  So we decided to head back to the city centre
of Utrecht and hang out for a while.

The day proved to be one of the most perfect days to be out.
It was a true SUN-day. And we got to see a side of Utrecht in the sun, which is
quite nice too!

     

The remining part of the Church                                                       Posing on a Sunny Sunday 

Our new friends showed us around the city and we got to
learn a few things about Utrecht. For instance, the main church in the city was
actually much bigger than it is today. Half of it was blown away by a hurricane
and in place of the pillars, that once supported the structure, are trees
planted. We ended our stay in Utrecht by hanging out next to a canal and laughing
a lot at some interesting and funny games that Martin played with us.

                         

A perfect end of the weekend at the canal                                        Bye bye Utrecht (leaving for Delft) 

As the Sun came down Martin, Eray and I bade farewell to our
hosts in Utrecht and made our way back to Delft for another week to look
forward to!

 

Tot Later! 

Professor Interviews- Christos Kassapoglou (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the second part of the interview with Mr
Christos Kassapoglou. When I had approached him about the interview, he had
asked me what I was going to ask him. Not having thought of any questions yet,
I said ‘you’ll see’. I think he probably saw right through me and suggested I
ask him about his cat. So I did.

 

Q. Structural
Analysis and Design is a rather ‘unfunny’ course. You still manage to somehow
capture the students in your lectures with subtle humorous anecdotes. I
personally find it a lot easier to get through a rather complicated lecture if
the professor is at the same level as the student and makes it interesting with
humorous examples. Do you think adding a touch of humour to the lectures is
effective in teaching young undergraduate students?

A. I do.  Not every student finds everything in a
lecture fascinating to stay focused and I do not presume even for a minute I am
such a good lecturer to keep everybody’s attention.
  Breaking up the pace with some anecdote can
be very helpful.  Anecdotes definitely help me relax and prepare for the rest of the
lecture.
  It is important to have
anecdotes that are related to the topic discussed at the moment.  It
makes the topic more real and reminds people that the subject is not always an
abstraction without relation to real life.
 
What is interesting is that I
never plan the anecdotes
.  So
sometimes no anecdote comes to mind and others more than once during a
lecture.  But I try to keep them to no more than one (two maybe if there is an
evening lecture).  After all, the purpose
of the lecture is to explain the course material.
  Anecdotes should be kept to a minimum.

 

 

Q. What’s the deal
with your cat?

A. My cat is quite a
character.
  But then again, this is
probably what every pet lover will say about their pet(s).  Her
name is Barbarossa (Red Beard).  Because
she is red/orange, and 90% of red/orange cats are male, we (my wife and I)
thought when she was very young that she was a he, hence the name. 
Yes, we could have checked in detail to
find out her gender but we thought we knew what we were doing and did not check
very closely.  Barbarossa grew up being in charge of the house until our son was
born.  Now she is dethroned but she does
not mind.  She is very docile with our
son (he is 3 years old) and does not defend herself when, in a mixture of
overwhelming love and vengeful jealousy, our son tries to choke her.
 We have to keep an eye and save her every once
in a while. 

Our cat will fetch
things when you throw them as long as they are reasonably small and light.  She understands a lot of Greek words.  We are trying to teach her some Dutch words
but with little success.  I think our
Dutch is still of very poor quality and she 
prefers more qualified teachers.

 

 

 

Q. What’s been the most memorable moment
of your academic and professional career?

A. It is too early for me to pick a memorable moment in my
(short) academic career (4 years).  There
are many memorable moments but none sticks out as most memorable.  In
my professional career, (26 years in industry), there is one that I will never
forget.  It was two years after I finished
my studies at the university and I was working in a small company in the US
developing one of the first all-composite airplanes.  In and of itself, that project was one of the
best things that happened to me in my professional life.
 The experience, the people, the attitude, the
challenge, was something unsurpassed ever since. 

For a new airplane design, one of the things you have to
demonstrate is that, with the worst expected damage present at the worst
possible location in the structure, the structure can still meet the highest
load expected in service without failing. 
So I was given the task of
selecting what types of damage and at what locations we should put them.  At the time defining the type and size of
damage was a little hazier than what it is today (it is still quite hazy).
  So I took all the detailed results we had
from maximum stresses in the fuselage and wing (these were results from
multiple finite element runs representing the different flight manoeuvres the
aircraft would go through in its lifetime) and found the most highly loaded locations of the wing and fuselage for different
manoeuvres.  For the rest of the story we
will concentrate on the wing because it was the one that was tested first and
is responsible for the memorable experience.
  There were about 15 different critical
locations on the wing.  On each location, I decided how big of a
crack we would create or how big of an impact (simulating hail storm damage for
example) we had to apply
.  At the
three most critical locations (the ones with the lowest safety margins), I
decided to put two types of damage next to each other (crack and impact) to
simulate worst case scenarios which may be improbable but not impossible.

Up to that point I
had viewed this as an academic exercise.
 
After all, I had only been out of
university for two years and did not easily understand the implications of some
of my work.
 The full scale test of
the wing, however, was one of the two most important tests for the entire
program (the other being the fuselage) and, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of work depended on successful
completion of this test.
  So,
naturally, my recommendations for damage locations, types and sizes, had to be
approved by the chief of structures.  A
brilliant British engineer in his late 40s to whom I really owe a lot.  As
soon as he saw my report he “blew a gasket”. 
He screamed my name and I had to immediately go in an emergency meeting
with him.  He said: “Do you realize how
aggressive your scenarios are?  This is
too much damage and at the worst locations nonetheless!  Are you trying to sink the entire program?”
  I explained that my selections were still
within the limits of what the entire group had discussed.  Granted
on the very edge of the worst case scenarios but wasn’t that what we were
supposed to demonstrate?”  He was not
convinced but he was willing to listen (a trait fast disappearing from industry
and academia these days). 
He thought
for a moment and finally said: “OK.  We will go with your recommendations.  But if anything goes wrong with this test, it
is your behind!
  (He actually used a
slightly different and less appropriate word here).  And I want you up there on the wiffle tree
during the limit load!  I want cameras
monitoring the three worst locations with you standing next to the most
critical one holding the “abort” button! 
If you see even the tiniest
growth of damage, you stop the test

The “wiffle” tree is
the scaffolding and fixturing used to hold the wing during the test and apply
the loads.
  It is a large complex
structure clamped on the floor and the ceiling with all kinds of arms, frames
and brackets, holding the wing at different locations and applying prescribed
loads using actuators.  I was to climb up next to the worst
critical location with my eyes glued to the three cameras and the most critical
location next to me.
  I was to wear
some protective equipment (helmet etc). 
I was to hold the “abort” button. 
And I was to pray and hope that nothing went wrong.  If a
wing breaks during a test like that, the amount of energy released is
enormous.  Things tend to fly far and
fast obliterating anything they find along the way.  This is why you don’t go to the full-scale
test without being 110% sure you will pass it. 
You do all kinds of detailed analysis and testing of sub-components
to prove to yourself you are ready for the real thing.

Needless to say, that meeting ruined all my days after that
until the day of the test.  I was forced to realize that we are dealing
with real structures here, that people’s lives will depend on them in the
future and that our design decisions had better be as good as possible. 

In the days leading up to the day of the test, I checked and
double checked all my calculations.  Never before or since have I scrutinized my
work in more detail.  And I did not get
much sleep during those days either.
 
And the big moment came.  After
the technicians set up and verified everything, they pushed the “start” button
and left the room.  I was all alone up on
a scaffolding with a monster wing below me slowly building up load.  The
whole test, lasted for about 30 seconds. 
The  30 hardest, most hectic,
perhaps heroic, and, definitely, nerve wracking seconds of my life.  I have done quite a few dangerous things in
my life not the least of which was hang-gliding including some reasonably
spectacular crashes.  But this was by far
the scariest.
 Here you have an
entire wing coming at you.  And you can
hear all kinds of noises as the structure relaxes, the scaffolding eases into position,
bolts move slightly, metal and composite rub against each other.  And you have to be careful to differentiate
typical noises from the beginning of failure. 

Half way through the test I hid behind a big I-beam of the
scaffolding, with my eyes glued at the critical location still relentlessly
approaching me.  (This was a wing
up-bending test).  Every second or so I
would look at the cameras to monitor the other locations and then back to the
critical site still moving towards me.  Did I hold my breath?  I do not know.  I know that after the test my heart rate
probably hit the fastest it ever did in my life.  Finally, the wing reached the highest point
and highest load, at about a meter away from my face.  No change in damage size.  No extra noise.  No explosion. 
Then, as slowly as it came up, it started moving away from me until it
reached its original (level flight) position. 
We had passed the test!  I was
right all along! (And perhaps a bit lucky?).

I climbed down the scaffolding, and joined the others in an
adjoining room.  So how did the test go? asked the chief of structures (as if he did not
know already) with a smile from one ear to the next.  Oh, no problem at all, I responded trying to
keep my voice steady and pretend to be a seasoned engineer during just another
day at work.

I kept the shirt I
was worrying that day as a memento of my first and most difficult challenge in
my professional life.  This was one of
the most educational days of my life.  In
fact, if you normalize it by the time duration of the 30 seconds of the test,
it was the densest educational content I have ever experienced.

 

Q. Finally, does conducting this
interview make me eligible for a bonus point? Please? Pretty please?

A. Unfortunately, not
for structural analysis and design.  If
this were a journalism course, then definitely. 
But I doubt they would ever let me teach a journalism course.

 

I would sincerely like to thank Mr. Kassapoglou for his
swift yet detailed answers to my questions. I hope you guys enjoyed reading it!
Personally, I found it quite educational and interesting.  Let’s hope we all encounter  ‘wiffle tree’ moments in our life.

Tot Later

Professor Interviews- Christos Kassapoglou (Part 1)

Quite
recently, I decided to start a series of blogs interviewing some of my favorite
professors. I had this ‘epiphany’ during one of my ‘Structural Analysis and
Design’ lectures (so much for paying full attention in class). Naturally, I
decided to start with the lecturer of that course, since he is one of my
favorites (and trust me the list isn’t very long).

Now let me
remind you, that Structural Analysis and Design is the most challenging course
I have encountered in my Aerospace program yet. So it’s only fair to give the
man a chance to answer some questions that I think you’d enjoy knowing the
answers to.

I’ve split
this interview of 8 questions into two parts, since he was nice enough to
answer my questions in quite some
detail. Though I have his permission to shorten the interview answers, I prefer
not to since it wouldn’t really be fair. So without further due, here’s Mr.
Christos Kassapoglou!

 

Q. Since the readership of this blog consists
of many prospective students, we’ll start with the course you teach me (and 400
other students). So how would you describe ‘Structural Analysis and Design’ to
the average person?

A. Any
structure must be able to withstand the forces that will be exerted to it
during its lifetime without failing. 
This is even more important for an airplane where any failure can be a
major disaster in terms of lives of people in the airplane and on the
ground.  An airplane is not like an automobile which, if it breaks down you park
to the side of the road and arrange for it to be picked up and driven to the
garage shop for repairs.  If a wing
breaks or a fuselage punctures, you cannot just “park” the airplane and arrange
for another one to come and pick up the passengers.  So coming up with the geometry (dimensions,
thicknesses) and material (Aluminum, Titanium, steel, composite, etc) such that
the structure performs its “duty” (lift off the ground and fly) without
breaking apart for 20 or 30 years is extremely important.  This is what structural design is about.
  In order to design a structure one must
determine how the externally applied loads (forces) are transmitted internally
through the structure and make sure the local loads (stresses and strains) that
develop do not lead to failure.  This course is about determining the
internal loads and setting the groundwork for selecting the geometry and
materials that guarantee there is no failure under the externally applied
loads.

 

Q. I’m very interested about the academic
origins of professors, so where and what did you study during your university
years?  

A. After finishing high school in Greece, I
went to the US at MIT to do my BS degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics.  After that, I did two MS degrees, again at
MIT, one in Mechanical Engineering and one in Aeronautics and
Astronautics.  I majored in structures
and, in particular composite materials.
There is a somewhat interesting
story related to that.
  After my second year as an undergraduate I
had decided I wanted to work in aerodynamics, in particular turbulence.
 I was interested in the fact that other than
very time consuming solutions obtained by the computer, and very few closed
form solutions for special cases, the governing equations (Navier-Stokes) were
very difficult to solve in more general cases.
 
Keep in mind I was a naïve second
year student at the time.
  I am a bit
less naïve now and have a lot more respect for the Navier-Stokes
equations.
  One day, I was talking to a professor during lunch and  I mentioned I was really interested in
aerodynamics.  One thing brought another
and, at some point, he said:  “Do you
know Werner Heisenberg who came up with the uncertainty principle in physics?”  Of course I knew him.
  We had covered some simplified versions of
his work both in high school and in the university.
  And I had a lot of respect for someone who
was capable of such tremendous contributions in physics
.  “Well”, said the professor,
“Heisenberg also was interested in turbulence. 
He started working on that and decided it was too hard.  Switched to physics and got the Nobel prize
for coming up with the uncertainty principle”.
  So I told myself: “What am I doing even
thinking about turbulence if guys like Heisenberg gave up”?
  This
of course was not the only reason I switched to structures but was one of them.

 

Q. What brought you to teaching, and in
particular teaching at TU Delft?
 

A. For the longest time, I was very much
against any type of involvement in teaching. 
As a student I had had professors in courses who were brilliant
researchers but terrible teachers. 
And
I also had professors who were brilliant researchers but also superb
communicators and I learned so much in their courses.  This comparison between the two made me appreciate how hard it is to
explain something to someone especially if it is not a simple concept, no
matter how well you may understand it or think you understand it yourself.
  I had and have tremendous respect for people
who can explain things well to others. 
And I am still very concerned that I have a responsibility towards the
average student that steps in the classroom with the expectation to learn
something from me.

So for the
longest time, I would refuse to even
consider such a possibility.  Besides I
was having too much fun working in industry.
  Until, four years ago, a good friend of mine
who is much more far-sighted than I am, started pestering me about coming to
TUDelft.  Now TUDelft is not just any university. 
If you spend some time in the field of structures for example, you come
across quite a few big names who have made tremendous contributions in the
field and they were all at one time or another associated with TUDelft.
  So, my inherent concern about the
difficulties in teaching and my appreciation of the fact that TUDelft is not
the University of Southwestern Beach somewhere, made me very skeptical.  He insisted and he finally convinced me to
give it a try.  Part time at first.  I was
impressed (and still am) by the academic standards here.  Some of the students here would shine in any
university of the planet.
  As some of
the professors.  I was very worried at
the beginning about teaching and getting my point across.  I still am. 
Each lecture is a test for me and
I don’t always pass the test.  But I
stuck with it because I liked it and I hope to stick with it for quite some
time longer.

 

Q. We’ve all heard and you yourself have
famously put up the ‘angry comments’ of students’ reactions to your exams. How
do you deal with that?

A. The exam is not hard.  I could make it so hard that I could not
solve it.  But it is not easy either.  The purpose of the exam is to determine which
students have learned the material and to what extent.
 

The second
year structures course is the first course where the student is asked to use
the majority of what he/she has learned up to that point: Calculus,
differential equations, statics, mechanics, and so on.  And it
is not a matter of “having seen” these topics before.  It is a matter of having understood them in
depth and being able to use them.
  The course also gives the students (or
tries to) a flavor of real life.
In
real life you will not always be given a problem that is similar to what you
have solved before.  And you will not be
told what assumptions to make.  In real
life those giving you the problem usually have no clue what the answer is.  It is up to you to come up with an approach
that can simplify the problem, reach an answer or, usually more than one
answers, and then decide if the answer is acceptable or not.  Or, among multiple answers, pick the
“best”. 

So the exams
are a tiny attempt to give students a taste of real life.  First
and foremost, I make a big effort to make sure that each exam is different than
any previous exam.  Not just in terms of
the questions being dissimilar but the type of questions being very different
from those in previous exams.
  Even
though the material is the same, the problems in the exam are “turned around” in
ways that give different perspectives of how the material is applied
Second, all the basic topics covered in the course are examined in the
exam. 
This means there are at least four
problems.  Third, the aim is to see if the students understand the basics and not
if they have learned how to follow procedures or recipes for solution methods.
  To learn procedures, you do not need to go to
a university, definitely not TU Delft in any case.  Fourth,
there is usually an easy question and a hard question.  The easy question gives the students
confidence in what they are doing.  The
hard question gives me an idea if I did a reasonable job during the lectures.
  The more students answer it correctly the
happier I am.  It also gives me an idea
of which students are capable of solving the more challenging engineering
problems.  All other questions are
in-between.
 

There is another aspect that makes the exams
unattractive to some students.
  At least one of the
problems is taken directly from something I mentioned in the lecture.  After
the first few lectures, more than half of the students elect not to attend
lectures and, most of them, rely on collegerama.  But following collegerama is not the same as
being in the lecture.
  Unless you
really focus, you miss a lot of things. 
Sitting on a couch at home with all kinds of other things in your mind,
it is hard to focus enough to grasp concepts in detail.  So a lot of students are surprised with a
question that they did not expect because it is not exactly covered in the textbook
or they missed it in collegerama.  Most of the time, I can tell when I grade
the exam who was paying attention and who was not by checking how they did on
that question. 

In addition,
there is always one question based on the studio classroom work (application
sessions).  In the first year, many
students elected not to do the application sessions because they were not
mandatory.  This year, most of them are
trying to attend even though they are still not mandatory.  The rumor that one question in the exam is
related to that material has gone around.

So how do I deal with students’ angry
comments about the exam?  First, if
possible, I check on how many students are angry (at least were angry enough to
comment).  So far, the number has been
less than 8%
and, even
if I double that to include students that were afraid or otherwise unwilling to
express their negative views, that is too low to consider the exam too
hard.  Unfortunately, more recently,
students refrain from expressing the comments in venues (e.g. aerostudents.com)
to which I have access so I do not have any recent detailed data.  Second,
I read the comments and try to understand, behind the frustration, what went
wrong.  If the complaint is realistic, I
try to make changes next time.  Finally,
I also check if the person making the complaint actually had studied for the
exam.  Since I do not know their names I
can only go by what they say.  If they
say that they started studying two days before the exam or they looked at 4
previous exams and were able to do them so they are surprised now that they did
not do well in this exam, I am not worried at all.  You do not learn structural analysis and
design by studying for two days.
  And
you do not learn the material by studying previous exams (you only practice
that way whatever that means when it comes to learning new material).  And, in cases of complaints about the exam
being different, I get the feeling I succeeded in what I wanted to do in the
first place: create a completely different exam for exactly the same material.

I should say
that all this has some really positive results. 
A couple of the students that
were quite vocal about their complaints and dissatisfaction with the exam years
ago are now doing their MS thesis with me. 
They do an excellent job and there is a lot of mutual respect between
us.  Interestingly enough, they do not
feel the same way about that exam they took years ago as they felt back then.

 

Stay tuned for the second part of this interview! It will be up tomorrow.

 

Tot Later 

My Time at DARE -The SRP Design and Construction

The TU has quite a few options of joining teams or groups to
further expand your engineering and designing skills in real world
applications. One of these teams or societies that caught my eye was the Delft
Aerospace Rocket Engineering, or simply DARE.

The first time I had heard about DARE was in January 2009,
when I was still in the preparation stages of ending high school. I was looking
into the TU Delft as one of my first choices and that’s where I got acquainted
with DARE. To me, a naïve high school kid, DARE seemed like the ultimate place
to be. So I gathered some courage and waited till I was actually at the TU as a
student to go any further.

 

Once at the TU, I was surprised at how accessible DARE was.
Up until then I had always pictured DARE as an ultra-genius elite club whose members
became members by somehow passing the rocketry equivalent of the Spartan baby
test (you know, from 300). But that was not so. As it turned out, most of the
members, if not all, had actually acquired most of their hands on rocket
building skill after becoming a member of DARE. Being a rocket/space guy, I had
to… and I mean HAD to get me some DARE.

As the name suggests, DARE is a student society that pretty
much builds rockets. But if you’re a first time member, then in the first year
you have to take part in the Small Rocket Project (SRP) competition. This lovely
competition involves forming a group (with first timers) and designing and
building a rocket that would reach an apogee of about 1km and then safely land (preferably
with parachute deployment). Oh yeah, there’s one tiny detail. The rocket is
supposed to carry an egg (a raw one of course) and the egg has to be intact
after the rocket has landed. Piece of cake, right? NO.

So I formed a team along with my current roommate Antanas,
and other friends Martin, Swathi and Stefan. We named our team the Paranormal
Research Society (PRS). You know, since the competition was called SRP, we were
PRS. Creativity was running low back then. Our default team name was ‘Team 25’ before
we changed it to PRS. So, naturally, we named our rocket ‘Meat 52’ (a not so
jumbled up version of ‘Team 25’). I know, we should get a Razzie for naming.

            

A typical Design evening- Martin and Antanas                           Our preliminary draft                              Shopping for parts  

Putting together our feeble young minds, we met week after
week, wide eyed and excited to build this thing. First there was the design
phase. We decided to build a rocket with a body using a PVC tube of 80mm
diameter. The nose cone was supposed to be made using foam. And the parachute
deployment mechanism was supposed to be done with the help of a servo motor attached
to an arm that would push off the top section and deploy the parachute. The
design seemed pretty fool proof.

Then came the time for the fun part, building the damn
thing. We did this in the basement workshop of the EWI (Mathematics, Computer
Science and Electrical Engineering) building. I like to call the basement
Frankenstein’s birthplace. It’s ominously dark and we were building potentially
dangerous machines in there.

                  

We need bulkheads! (at Frankenstein’s dungeon)                        Almost there- Team PRS

The building process was the most fun part and with the help
of our mentors we learnt how to properly use power tools and perfect our
rocket. Designing, and redesigning the ‘egg section’.  We were almost done. The only thing left was
the fins. We were having some trouble when I (I’d like to think it was me since
I love aluminium 7075) suggested using Aluminium 7075 as the material for the
fins. Everyone agreed and we ‘borrowed’ some Aluminium 7075 from the Aerospace
faculty.

After building and designing the fins, it was time to paint
it. Antanas was our unofficial paint guy but decided to sit the paint session
out. The rest of us then took a shot at spray painting the rocket. I believe it
turned out pretty well.

      

Before                                                                                                                 After 

Finally, the launch day was inching closer. But more on that
the next time.

Tay tuned to find out more about DARE!

 

Tot Later

 

 

Amsterdam it is

Spring break is finally over. And it’s been fun. You already
know about start of the week, that I spent in Germany. Now it’s time to sum up
the concluding weekend.

Angad, my oldest friend from high school, visited me for the
weekend again. However, it was a little different this time since we spent
majority of the weekend in Amsterdam. So, Angad arrived on Friday evening with
a group of American friends. Since it was spring break, I decided to join them
in Amsterdam. We started off by walking around a bit in the city and then got
some dinner at an Argentinian restaurant (I don’t remember much of the dinner
though).  After dinner we hung out in
Amsterdam some more and then headed back to Delft.

      

 

Café de Klok was having an open jam session. So we decided
to head there as soon as we got to Delft. The packed hazy interiors did well in
setting the mood for the live music that was playing there. My friend Nishant
and I then went on and played a short set. One song from the set was quite
embarrassing since, well I was quite out of tune. But the audience seemed to
enjoy it nonetheless. After a little bit of live music, it was time to go home.
So we headed to my place where, after listening to some good music, we pretty
much fell asleep.

Come Saturday morning (rather afternoon) we made our way
towards Amsterdam (not before introducing my new friends to the mighty
Kapsalon). After reaching Amsterdam, we headed for a quick coffee and then to
our main destination, The Heineken Experience. The Heineken Experience is a
museum which showcases the brewing process of Heineken beer. Heineken isn’t my
favourite beer but it was a fun experience. There was even a sort of ride in
the museum where the brewing process was described on video while we were being
shaken around standing on a platform! Plus we got two free beers.

After that, we took some pictures at the famous ‘Iamsterdam’
sign.  We walked around the city some
more and took in the lively vibe it’s known for.

    

Then a few filled grocery bags later, we decided to head
back to Delft. Music, conversation and junk food. We ordered a late night
pizza, and after devouring that beast, called it a night.

Sunday morning was departure time as I said goodbye to my
new (and one old) friends.

Now it’s time for another goodbye, to the spring break that was.

Hello lectures

 

Tot Later

 

Photo courtesy: Carmen Jones and Angad Singh 

 

The Schedule

The good thing about having a week off during the spring
break is that there’s no set ‘schedule’ you need to follow. Of course apart
from the ones you set for yourself. Don’t get me wrong. I actually like
schedules and a daily timetable. It gives structure to my day and I somehow am
proficient at keeping to a university timetable at least. This hasn’t always
been true though.

In my first and second year I’d always a have a great start
to my quarter with me attending every class attentively for the first week and
then something would happen. Come week three I’d usually be waking up at 12 at
noon and then spending the whole day at home. You know, lazing around, watching
House. Damn you House.

      

Everybody Lies Procrastinates                                                                               Story of my Life

Anyway, but It has been different this time around. Hey three weeks have passed
and I haven’t really missed a lecture. And I’ve been keeping to my own personal
schedule somewhat successfully!

This is what a typical week in my quarter looks like. Don’t get fooled by the
blank white spaces since that’s where my personal schedule kicks in and I have
to, you know, summon the Zeus of willpower to help me sit my ass down to study.

The classes to look out for this time around? Structural
Analysis. It’s the nightmare we all could do without. Though without this
course  in the long run, we’d be flying,
or rather dying, in airplanes that would just fall apart maybe halfway through
the flight. Plus, the professor does a great job at teaching us in a humorous
way but at the same time scaring the sh-t out of us too.

The most fun course? Propulsion and Power. Yep, It’s the
first course that intensively deals with aircraft and spacecraft engines. Real
rocket science stuff, you know. The professor for the Aero Engines part is
Indian by the way, so I guess I’m a little biased towards his accent. And he is
a mix of subtle badass-ery and intelligence.

 

Ok, time to get back to that personal ‘schedule’.  Have fun on the remaining days of the spring
break!

Tot Later!

© 2011 TU Delft