The following is an excerpt.

Judging by industry and public interest in her subject, Karoline Osnes has brilliant prospects. In a few years she will know more about the behaviour of glass in explosions than most people on the planet.

Karoline Osnes dropped a job at an engineering consultancy to go for a PhD at SFI CASA.
Karoline Osnes dropped a job at an engineering consultancy to go for a PhD at SFI CASA.

PhD candidate Osnes is quite the opposite of Laura Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie”. The character in Tennessee Williams’ classic play spends time polishing and arranging her collection of little glass animals. Karoline Osnes takes professional pleasure in breaking glass. Not only that; she studies the process in great detail. The aim of her PhD is to describe the characteristics of glass and laminated glass as precisely as possible.

There is another contrast as well: Laura Wingfield is shy and isolates herself in her room. Karoline Osnes is a lively and including participant in any social setting. Like the laughter of last month’s CASA profile Magnus Langseth, hers is also audible from far away.


New topic

This months’ profile is very much aware that her PhD work is being followed with considerable interest. When SFI SIMLab decided to direct their attention towards anti-terror just months prior to the attack on 22 July 2011, they showed almost spooky foresight. Since then, the labs at NTNU have been even better equipped for what Osnes is up to. The new shock tube will play a central part in her experimental work.

While glass wasn’t a research topic for CASA’s predecessor SIMLab, the inclusion of the new material is particularly interesting for the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation; one of CASA’s new partners. They are responsible for building the new government headquarters in Oslo.


Car makers eager to know

“Due to micro cracks, glass will behave differently in each blast although the impact is the same. I will try to capture this behaviour in the numerical models I aim to develop and validate. I want to describe the fragmentation and, in the case of laminated glass, the interaction with polymers,” Osnes explains.

At the same time, the generic nature of research comes through: several of CASA’s partners in the automotive industry quickly signalled their interest. It is no wild guess that there will be more PhD work on glass in the eight years ahead.


An artist lost

Osnes’ way into breaking glass was not a given. Growing up in a town southwest of Trondheim she can only remember one related incident: she accidentally broke a mirror.

As a youngster, she enjoyed painting and drawing and wanted to be an artist. However, she was also good at maths. In the end, she decided that an engineering career might be a safer livelihood.

Her joining up with NTNU’s SIMLab happened rather by accident: a friend had heard about it and she decided to go for it when she got a chance to do a student project there.

She went on to write her master’s thesis in the same place, studying what happens to a floating tunnel exposed to an internal explosion. The subject has great interest in Norway, since Parliament has decided to build a ferry-free highway along the west coast from Kristiansand in the far south to Trondheim in Mid-Norway. This implies crossing the Sognefjord, which is too deep for a conventional tunnel and 3.7 kilometres wide at the crossing point. A floating tunnel is one of the options under consideration.


Dropped consultancy

After finishing her masters’ degree, Karoline Osnes landed a job with a well-known Norwegian engineering consultancy. Then, before she had even started, she received an e-mail.

“Professor Tore Børvik invited me to a meeting in his office. Flattered by the invitation, I accepted. When I got there, CASA Director Magnus Langseth was present as well. They wanted me to consider going for a PhD. We didn’t talk for very long, but there was something in their message that triggered me. Something along the line of “This is a kind of chance you only get once”, and “Nobody who takes a PhD ever regrets”. It made me think “This is a bigger challenge than I’ll get at the consultancy”. So here I am, without having tried the alternative,” she says.


Part of the bunch

“And now, three months into your PhD work, have you had moments of regret?”

“No. There have been times when I have asked myself if I made the right choice, but I’m confident that I would have regretted it if I hadn’t joined.”

“At the moment, you are the only female PhD candidate at SIMLab. Does that bother you?”

“Not at all. I feel as much part of the bunch as everyone else. It wasn’t a surprise to me now, but when I started on my master’s thesis I was struck by the good atmosphere. SIMLab has a well-earned fame for that, in addition to the high qualifications. People are very open, I always feel I can ask and people always take time to answer. It’s a great place to be!”

Are you listening, Laura Wingfield? And bring your unicorn.