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Promoting, Supporting and Inspiring Women in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) - International Women's Day

Promoting, Supporting and Inspiring Women in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) - International Women's Day


Dr Jennifer Thompson

"Within my role in ASTUTE I’ve always felt encouraged, supported and valued by all my colleagues. I think that if you have a passion for your topic and good knowledge in your field then people will listen to the things that you have to say, regardless of your gender."

Jennifer, tell us about your background and what brought you to Computational
Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modelling in the first place?

From quite early on in my education I had a real affinity for the STEM subjects and a curiosity about “how things worked?”… Consequently, I was guided by my teachers to consider engineering as a career…I went on to study Engineering Science (MEng) at Oxford University and specialised in mechanical engineering with a focus on fluid dynamics, particularly high-speed flow behaviour. I found supersonic flow and the formation of shock waves, etc. particularly fascinating and as part of my Masters project I had to capture and measure shock flow behaviour using a specialised technique photography technique.  However, experimental approaches for measuring flow tend to be particularly laborious and consequently as I progressed with my career I started to utilise Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).  CFD is a powerful modelling technique that allows the in-depth study and analysis of flows and multi-physics processes; allowing you to “see” flow features invisible to the eye through the plotting of velocity and pressure contours.  I first used CFD as part of a study into the improvement of vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) aircraft exhaust signatures, before moving on to undertake an EngD at Swansea University, with the ASTUTE project.  My EngD allowed me to focus on the use of CFD to solve real-world Industrial processes that use liquids or gases.  I now use CFD in my day-to-day work and find it both a fascinating and challenging area to work in.

You have been working with ASTUTE 2020 since 2011. Tell us what
ASTUTE 2020 does; the support the operation provides; and, the impact that
Computational Fluid Dynamics has through your work with ASTUTE 2020?

The EU-backed multi-University partnership ASTUTE 2020 is working together with the Welsh Manufacturing Industry to embed advanced and sustainable future manufacturing technologies through knowledge exchange.

ASTUTE 2020 is a team of University-based engineers who work with the high-value manufacturing industry across Wales through effective collaboration with academia, aiming to drive productivity and growth within the industry. We can support a variety of sectors by facilitating the development and adoption of advanced and sustainable manufacturing technologies, higher-value goods, and services of the future for the global market.

My particular area of focus is to assist companies with manufacturing processes that require optimisation or analysis through the application of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and multi-physics modelling.  In this role, I have had the opportunity to apply CFD to a range of different real-world problems; including: mixing in large batch production vessels; improvement of gas dispersion in an injection system within a heat exchanger; cyclone flow optimisation when used for heat extraction in a lead processing plant; improvement of melt break-up in the gas atomisation process; and, most recently, simulating the break-up of coolant jets on a rotating drill bit to reduce mist generation.  The real enjoyment of working in the ASTUTE 2020 operation is that the projects have a definable outcome that benefits the company we work with in some way, by allowing them to deepen and further their understanding of the complex physics involved in the process.  The outcome for them could then be, for example, improvement in efficiency or reduction in environmental impact….but there is always something tangible and beneficial that comes out of the work.

First Image: Gas Atomisation - High-Speed Jet   /   Second Image: Gas flow into a combustion chamber


To date, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment with Computational Engineering Modelling?

Generally, I would have to say that the variety of different process that I have been able to simulate through the application of CFD within the ASTUTE project has been really exciting and challenging.  I think to-date, I’m most proud of my simulation work for the Gas Atomisation process.  This process is a manufacturing process for the production of fine metal powders, which go on to be used in a variety of applications, including for example 3D printing.  The process involves a molten metal being delivered under gravity into the path of high speed (supersonic) gas jets.  These jets affect the melt and a complex, dynamic interaction occurs between the gas and the metal, which causes the melt to disintegrate into fine droplets that cool to powders.  The CFD modelling required me to combine a number of aspects including the use of a discrete particle model (DPM) to capture the formation of the powder.  I was able to develop a robust qualitative predictive tool for the company we worked with….but my work on the topic is still ongoing, as I want to make the model even better and more realistic.

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in Computational modelling?

Personally I don’t think that being a woman has held me back in anyway in my work in computational fluid dynamics.  I have worked as part of team of engineers and have never felt that being female has been an issue.  Within my role in ASTUTE I’ve always felt encouraged, supported and valued by all my colleagues.  I think that if you have a passion for your topic and good knowledge in your field then people will listen to the things that you have to say, regardless of your gender. 

Image left: Atomised powder simulated with DPM

What do you consider game-changing technologies in computational modelling?

I think the future of Engineering is certainly going to be hugely influenced by the “Big Data” revolution that is underway.  Up until now the computational power of the computer, that you have access to influences the complexity and accuracy of work that you can undertake with CFD.  But, I think going forward we’ll be seeing a lot more simulation techniques combined with big data and data analysis techniques to form “digital twins” of manufacturing/industrial processes.  This will effectively bring CFD and simulations into real time, where processes will be able to be modified and improved as they are run, based on the information from the digital twin.  Additionally, the incorporation of virtual reality into the analysis and viewing of CFD simulations will completely revolutionise how complex design is undertaken.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with computational modelling?

There needs to be more encouragement from an early age of girls towards the STEM subjects.  Generally, this concept of Engineering being more suited to men needs to be eradicated.  Engineering is for anybody with an enquiring mind that wants to contribute towards the development of technology within our society.  Women shouldn’t be concerned that engineering is male dominated……yes, for most of my career I have worked in environments and on teams that have more men than women, but I have never felt discriminated against or disadvantaged by this is any way.  I really think when everyone is working towards a common goal it doesn’t matter what gender you are, it’s just about getting the job done.

Favourite computational modelling tool (could be a software, application, material…
you name it)?

The majority of my computational modelling is undertaken using the Ansys Fluent CFD software…..I’m not sure “favourite” is the right word, but it does get the job done (eventually – after a little persuasion).  Fluent has an extensive toolkit of multi-physics models that allows for the simulation of extremely complex real-world problems.  Additionally, it has a robust post-processing capability which allows for the production of great images/pictures of the calculated flow features.  These are really useful, particularly when delivering results to people at management level who are less technically involved.

Image Right: Simulating fluid impact onto drill bit

Favourite moment in your day job?

Typically it is quite an involved process to get a CFD simulation to run successfully.  Starting from the geometry through to meshing and then achieving a stable, converged solution can take a number of weeks to months depending on complexity.  But, it’s always the best moment when you check your results and find that the model has produced something sensible and that you’re on your way to producing an accurate simulation….it’s always a little bit exciting!

Image Right: Capturing disintegration of fluid jet onto drill bit