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"You often discover new things that turn out to be of fundamental importance"

The world of physics is fraught with problems that we don't yet fully understand. Mikael Andersen Langthjem is trying to understand the paradoxes of physics and solve its mysteries. He is a new associate professor at the Department of Engineering at Aarhus University.

2020.05.12 | Jesper Bruun

"As is often the case with physics, when you try to solve one problem, another arises in its wake. You often discover new things that turn out to be of fundamental importance, but that’s what makes engineering science so much fun," says Mikael Andersen Langthjem. Photo: Melissa Yildirim, AU Foto.

 

After a little more than 18 years as an associate professor at Yamagata University in Japan, Mikael Andersen Langthjem finally returned to Denmark in early March, where he managed to get just one day together with a handful of his new colleagues at Aarhus University before Corona closed everything down.

Mikael’s research is concerned with physical problems where the flow of air or a liquid, for example, generates unintended sound and/or oscillations.

A landmark testament to failed engineering science was the collapse of the 1,810-metre-long Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State on 7 November 1940 at 11.00 a.m. It was caused by aeroelastic flutter. The influence of a fluid (in this case air) on an elastic structure, and the following disaster, has since had enormous importance for the design of modern constructions.

However, flow-induced sound and oscillations are not just a problem for large constructions. The laws of physics are ubiquitous, and can have undesirable impacts on everything from micro to mega scale.

Mikael Andersen Langthjem’s research is in the middle of this scale. He has been working with some of the world's largest tech companies in Japan for many years, on projects ranging from rocket engines to fluttering flags and washing machines. The latter is a project with Hitachi, which he is bringing back to Denmark with him. He and Hitachi are trying to design genuine vibration-free washing machines:

"It might sound a little low-tech, but making washing machines that don't vibrate during the centrifuge cycle, for example, is a serious business. It’s no simple matter, because the clothes in the machine are not equally distributed in the drum, and this unevenness generates the vibration. We’re trying to balance them out with a sort of hula hoop, half-filled with saline, which interacts with the drum and balances the differences," he says, and continues:

"However, as is often the case with physics, when you try to solve one problem, another arises in its wake. You often discover new things that turn out to be of fundamental importance, but that’s what makes engineering science so much fun."

Mikael Andersen Langthjem graduated as a mechanical engineer at the Technical University of Denmark, where he also defended his PhD in 1996. His PhD was about the flow-induced oscillations in pipes with flowing liquid. He was then employed as a postdoc in Osaka, Japan, until 1998, when he started as a researcher at the Takasago Research and Development Centre, which is part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

After a brief stay back in Denmark, at Aalborg University until autumn 2001, he started as an assistant professor and later associate professor at Yamagata University, Japan.

"Now the time’s ripe to return to Denmark. There's a lot going on in the engineering area at Aarhus University, and I'm looking forward to being part of it - and to finally meeting my colleagues," he says.

 


 

Contact

Mikael Andersen Langthjem
Associate professor, Department of Engineering
Email: ml@eng.au.dk

Department of Engineering