Interviews, Issue 7 March 2011

In the Spotlight: Professor Cameron Tropea

Professor Cameron Tropea studied and worked in Toronto, Karlsruhe and Erlangen before taking the Chair of Fluid Mechanics and Aerodynamics at the Technical University of Darmstadt in 1997. His background is in experimental fluid mechanics and he has authored numerous book sections and journal publications on this subject. He is currently Editor of Springer's journal Experiments in Fluids and was previously Honorary Editor of Measurement Science and Technology from IOP Publishing.

Professor Tropea, thank you for your agreeing to this interview. Please tell us a little about yourself and your field of expertise.

I am originally from Canada – I always start with this as I have lived and worked in Germany for many years! Engineering was something that I was interested in from a young age and I always knew that I wanted to work in this field. I began my studies by doing a Bachelors degree in Engineering Science, Nuclear and Thermal Power at the University of Toronto and then took an opportunity of a scholarship to do my Ph.D. at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany. It was here that I began to work in the field of fluid mechanics.
At the time, fluid mechanics was entering an exciting phase and there were some fascinating developments which I enjoyed learning more about. This eventually led to my specialisation in optical measurement techniques in fluid mechanics.

How did you come to be in this field of research?

Initially through my undergraduate studies and then through my graduate studies in Germany, where I was presented with many opportunities to work with key scholars and scientists in fluids engineering.

Can you tell us more about your work with near-wall flows? What does this research encompass and what real-world applications will this work improve or enhance?

I now work at the Technische Universitaet Darmstadt at the Centre of Smart Interfaces. My work here is all about understanding and designing interfaces between fluids and gases and solid surfaces. These interfaces are present everywhere in our lives: on trains, planes, wind turbines – in fact on any moving object where fluid flow or heat transfer takes place. It is the interaction on these interfaces that affect the efficiency and performance of many devices. If you can understand the intricacies of these interactions, then you can understand how to influence the interface to improve efficiency. However, how an interface can be influenced depends on how it is built. For example, you might be able to influence an interface chemically or if it is made of porous materials, you can influence its efficiency by understanding and adapting how liquids pass through it.

What do you think will be the most radical and exciting change in this field in the future?

I always think that the unknown is the most exciting! In science we are fortunate that new technological developments arise continuously that lead to new possibilities and avenues of research. For fluids engineering, it is these technological changes which have had the greatest impact on what we can now do experimentally. For example, we now have the capability to look at phenomena at a much higher spatial and temporal resolution and actually see what is happening at fluid/solid interfaces. Previously we would have had to apply a model to understand these processes, but now it is possible for us to experience the interaction first hand. This has only really been possible in the last few years or so, but it leads to other possibilities, such as looking at the inverse problem, namely to design interfaces for specific purposes.

In the last few years, scientific research has seen substantial changes with the advent of online, including eBooks, OpenAccess and increased use of social networking sites. What do you see as the major challenges facing scientific research and publishing today? How do you think these challenges could be overcome?

I think that there have been dramatic changes in journal-based publishing, mostly because of web-based handling of publications. Also the way that scientific journals are being used has changed, for instance, increasingly as a measure of academic performance; but now with the advent of internet publishing, open access, etc. maintaining the integrity and quality of these publications is certainly more of a challenge. The editorial processes that such journals have are there to ensure that quality is kept to a very high standard, so in the end it is the editors’ responsibility to ensure that this quality is maintained. I think that there are several issues which need to be addressed to help maintain the quality of scientific publishing in this new era:

  • Publishers must be willing to invest in the right software and marketing tools/operations to help them to keep up with the pace of change of web-based publishing.
  • In order to maintain a publication’s integrity, it is important for there to be a distance between the journal’s editorial team and the publisher. Springer is very good at maintaining this independence and keeps its publishing and editorial duties completely separate.
  • The last point is that in order to keep up with the latest developments in any field of research, it is important to be able to maintain not only the volume but also the quality of research output. This again comes down to investment in staff and processes which is something that Springer recognizes. They are very good at allowing their journal editors to do what is necessary to maintain the quality of the publication. I am Editor-in-Chief of Springer’s journal Experiments in Fluids and there has been tremendous growth in our volume. Without Springer’s support, we would not have been able to maintain the rate at which we have grown.

Experiments in Fluids

You have published and edited a number of books with Springer and are Editor- in-Chief for Experiments in Fluids. How did you come to publish with Springer initially?

I was working with a publisher based in Bristol and found out that the Editor-in-Chief of Experiments in Fluids was retiring, so I made some inquiries to see if I could take up the position. This was my first connection with Springer but since then I have published several books with them and now edit also a handbook, Experimental Fluid Mechanics.

What do you like most about working with Springer? Is there anything that you think Springer could do to make the publishing experience even better for authors?

I don’t think that Springer really could improve the publishing experience for authors drastically. Springer is very good at listening to its authors and editors and is very responsive to our needs. Each time we meet, we are asked if there are any challenges or issues that we need help with and Springer offers to do its best to provide this support.

On a more personal note, you have worked and lived in Germany for quite some time now. What prompted your move here?

I originally found out about the scholarship to support my move to Germany whilst on a canoe trip - a professor from Karlsruhe visiting Toronto accompanied me and spoke to me about coming to Germany to continue my studies in fluid mechanics. This led to a number of opportunities, both professional and personal, which meant that staying in Germany was advantageous! In addition, Germany had (and still has) numerous scholars and scientists in the field from whom I could learn a great deal.

And finally, what has been the most important achievement in your career so far and what are your plans for the future?

There have probably been many important achievements in my career but I think that the most important achievement is teaching. Watching my students become as passionate about fluid mechanics as I am and go on to graduate in the field is what gives me the most satisfaction. I plan to stay on at Darmstadt until I retire and then who knows? There are many technical challenges ahead which I look forward to embracing!