The following is an excerpt.
SFI CASA’s Vegard Aune is among the 25 carefully selected participants in NTNU’s next Outstanding Academic Fellows Programme. The scheme aims to accelerate the international career of the university’s top talented young researchers
«First and foremost, I am humbled and grateful to the Department of Structural Engineering for nominating me. This is a truly great and unique opportunity to concentrate on research over the next four years», says Associate Professor Vegard Aune.
His research revolves around severe blast loading events. In particular, he investigates the underlying physics of the structure, loading itself and the two-way interaction between the load and deformable structures during high-intensity surface pressures.
BUILDING INTERNATIONALLY LEADING CAREERS
Since 2014, NTNU’s Outstanding Academic Fellows Programme (OAFP) has facilitated academic development and merit by concentrating on research for more than 90 researchers. Everyone who is selected is already internationally outstanding in their fields.
The university’s Pro-Rector for Research and Dissemination hosts the scheme. One important measure is to qualify scientists for excellence grants, such as the European Research Council (ERC) Grants.
All the 25 participants should now agree with their departments, securing them sufficient time and resources to concentrate on research. Further, they must make appointments with an international mentor and develop specific plans for further research and career.
AN EXPERT ON BLAST LOADING
Vegard Aune is a part of the research group Structural Impact Laboratory (SIMLab). His home ground is the SIMLab Shock Tube Facility. The group is host to SFI CASA, and the research aims to increase our fundamental understanding of how materials and structures react to impact and other extreme impacts. Aune combines experimental, theoretical, and numerical methods to model this behaviour.
«Experiments represent the actual physics of the problem, while theoretical and numerical methods allow for more insight into the governing phenomena if they give reliable predictions».
His professorship at SFI CASA is initiated and funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Next year, NTNU will take over all the obligations.
A PARALLEL TO DOING TOP SPORT
NTNU clearly emphasizes the fact that OAFP is about pure research. The participants must set all engagements and activities aside that do not support the development of ground-breaking research.
«I see this as a parallel to top sport. You get help to manage your time effectively, and to concentrate on the research. It is all about performing your best by prioritizing correctly and clearing out what is important».
THE FREEDOM TO EXPLORE – AND THE CHALLENGE OF PRIORITIZING
Aune says he is the kind of person who finds research very exciting. He enjoys being a part of a research group and clearly appreciates life in academia.«It allows exploring open questions one does not understand and to follow intuitions and curiosity. There are always interesting issues popping up that we can explore further. It is easy to get carried away and say yes to everything. So, I must work harder on the priority part now».
AN INTERNATIONAL MENTOR
The scientists must find an international mentor with whom they should work closely. They must establish a career and research plan that includes plans for publications, collaborations, grants, projects, and research stays. Also, the plan must contain concrete actions on how he will establish himself as an independent international leader in his field.
Aune´s mentor is Professor Vikram S. Deshpande at the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge. Deshpande is part of the Materials Engineering group and the head of the Cambridge Solid Mechanics Group.
The yearly mentor honorarium is 2 500 Euro. In addition, the candidates receive 200 000 NOK per year for research and career development. The participants must start working with the application for ERC grants during or right after the programme period.
FROM EXPERIMENTS TO REAL-LIFE USE
Vegard Aune is educated as a structural engineer, specializing in strength analyses.
What urges him to attend the EU’s champions league of research?
«When we understand more, we contribute to a safer society. We must always explore if there is more that we can do to ensure safer designs- and building processes. The more we know, the better we can predict and control how civil engineering structures respond to extreme loading conditions».
«HOW SAFE IS SAFE ENOUGH»?
Sustainability is another critical issue. One, essential question is «How safe is safe enough»? Aune thinks that engineers may tend to add more strength, more weight, and thus more materials to structures than is strictly necessary. That is, to keep to the safe side of regulations and standards.
The researcher thinks we should ask whether it is acceptable to multiply by factor two only because of uncertainties in the loading or the load-bearing capacity. In his opinion, too few challenges our knowledge of the actual loads.
«We know a lot about materials and safe structures. Suppose we also understand more of the load’s physics. In that case, we will enable the next generations of engineers to design more accurate, safer, and more sustainable structures».
(This article has been updated with the information on Professor Vikram S. Deshpande as Vegard Aune´s international mentor).