UAlberta & RWTH Aachen research exchange fuels innovative concepts

"This exchange has allowed me to bring my knowledge back to UAlberta and work with our students to expand the knowledge base here," says UAlberta's Ying Tsui, Associate Dean (Research and Internationalization) of Engineering and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Chris Schieman - 11 June 2019

For the final year of his Masters degree, UAlberta's David Gordon moved his research to Aachen, Germany, and worked out of the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH Aachen) labs at the Institute for Combustion Engines. RWTH Aachen is Germany's largest research polytechnic institute and one of the most celebrated research and education centres - particularly in engineering and technology - in all of the European Union.

UAlberta and RWTH Aachen have been in close connection since the early 2000s. As the relationship grew between the two, UAlberta International helped to facilitate a formal agreement. Since 2014, close to 30 researchers have travelled between UAlberta and RWTH Aachen to further their research, ultimately contributing to hundreds of joint research publications shared between the two institutions.

Almost a year after finishing his MSc and in the first year of his doctorate, Gordon is returning to Germany to present on much of his research findings into improving combustion methods and control systems for advanced automotive internal combustion engines. According to Gordon, the ability to travel to Germany has been crucial to his research.

"RWTH Aachen has a huge engine testing facility and close connections to various industry partners," says Gordon, whose mobility between UAlberta and RWTH Aachen was facilitated through a close partnership between the two institutions, with the purpose of enhancing and improving research into mechanical and chemical engineering.

Dr. Ying Tsui, UAlberta's Associate Dean (Research and Internationalization) of Engineering and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, had a visiting graduate student from RWTH Aachen who took his graduate-level course in laser applications. He explains that the graduate student was able to return to Aachen and apply what he learned in Alberta to his masters research in additive manufacturing.

"The partnership between UAlberta and RWTH Aachen contributes to the training of students to work in international and culturally diverse environments," says Tsui, who sees the partnership and mobility of students between institutions as a way to address and find tangible solutions to larger global issues. "A single institution can hardly possess sufficient capabilities to solve many global problems. Internationalization is essential to complement resources, skills and knowledge to find solutions for global challenges."

"The students and researchers at RWTH Aachen are some of the best in the world working in their fields," adds Dr. Alex Kuznetsov, Regional Manager (Europe) with UAlberta International. "Aachen is an amazing destination for researchers. We want UAlberta's researchers to work with the best in their respective fields, and our partnership with RWTH Aachen is providing an interesting academic and research experience for students."

Pointing out that RWTH Aachen is a world-renowned institution and a celebrated technical polytechnic for its innovations in energy and engineering, Kuznetsov notes that in 2018, RWTH Aachen was awarded three Clusters of Excellence from DFG, the German Research Council. This recognition of RWTH Aachen's research clusters leads to additional research funding towards RWTH Aachen programs, including the Fuel Science Center's Adaptive Conversion System for Renewable Energy and Carbon Sources.

In his main research finding while he was in Aachen, Gordon was able to develop a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) based engine controller, which is hardware that allows for rapid calculations to be performed in real-time, which improves overall fuel combustion methods in engines, allowing for fuels that lower carbon emissions and better fuel efficiency to be developed. The cutting-edge engine control equipment at the RWTH Aachen lab allowed for Gordon to work through his thesis and land on a working FPGA model, which he's presenting this year at the Symposium for Combustion Control in Aachen.

"Without the RWTH Aachen partnership, I would not have learned the skills necessary to create an FPGA based engine model," Gordon says. "Working with the researchers at RWTH Aachen has propelled my academic career. This exchange has allowed me to bring my knowledge back to UAlberta and work with our students to expand the knowledge base here."

Tsui is highly optimistic about the collaboration between the two institutions progressing to address even more research and, ultimately, continuing to solve large global issues. He sees how UAlberta and RWTH Aachen are able to complement each others' resources and is confident the research cultivated between the two institutions will find innovative ways to tackle global challenges.

"Having the ability to solve global challenges would increase UAlberta's prestige in the eyes of national and international peers and stakeholders," says Tsui. "This partnership is still in its early stage and I expect it would lead to important discoveries and innovation down the road."

UAlberta is pleased to welcome a delegation of twelve researchers and administrators from RWTH Aachen on June 13-14, 2019 to explore further the potential areas for collaboration.