Rising Star - Thibaut Appel

Rising Star - Thibaut Appel

In this article we meet Thibaut Appel, an Early Stage Career Researcher and PhD Student at Airbus Central Research & Technology, from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London..

What is your background and area of study?

Photo ThibautI am in the closing stages of my PhD research carried out at Airbus Central Research & Technology in Filton and from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London. I'm working on the topic of laminar-turbulent transition, more specifically under a numerical approach; my research focuses on developing fast and accurate solvers to predict the linear and weakly non-linear growth mechanisms of transition on wing geometries.  My research project is part of a EU's Horizon 2020 funded consortium called SSeMID (Stability and Sensitivity Methods for Industrial Design) which ended in January.  Before that, I obtained a BSc in Physics from the University of La Rochelle in France. Then I moved to Bordeaux Institute of Technology where I received my MEng in Mathematics and Mechanics. That course was orientated towards scientific computing.

Why did you choose this subject area?

During my undergraduate studies, I really enjoyed fundamental mathematics and physics but I was already attracted by mechanical engineering and the aerospace/automotive industrial sectors. I had never heard about scientific computing before and chose that stream as I was fascinated by that "trinity"  of fascinating fields, namely computer science, physics and applied mathematics, combined together for the numerical prediction of physical phenomena. Besides, I was attracted by the field of fluid mechanics, which is, as you may know very complex. Developing accurate flow solvers are key to improve aircraft design with regard to efficiency and fuel consumption. I had the opportunity to work on turbulence modelling with Dassault Aviation for my last end-of-masters internship and then naturally embarked for a PhD on laminar-turbulent transition with Airbus because I had the humble feeling there's so much more to learn and develop in the field.

What are your most notable projects, awards and areas of study?

So far it has been my current research project due to the challenges it's been posing. Surface-induced transition has been studied since the 1940s and as a result some wing instability mechanisms are well-known however being able to quantify in full the effect of wing surface irregularities (such as scratches, hail dents or maintenance liquid residuals) is still a grey area. Providing geometrical guidelines for design and performance tolerances is something the aeronautical industry looks to longingly. It is the industrial objective of my PhD research.

Published Research & Conference Papers

Appel, T., Mughal, S. & Ashworth, R. (2019) Global Stability Analysis of a Boundary Layer with Surface Indentations. In: 2019 AIAA Aviation Forum, Fluid Dynamics Conference, 17–21 June 2019, Dallas, TX, USA. AIAA Paper 2019-3537. DOI: 10.2514/6.2019-3537

Appel, T., Cooke, E., Mughal, S. & Ashworth, R. (To be published in 2020) BiGlobal Stability Analysis of Swept-Wing Boundary Layers with Forward and Backward Facing Steps. In: Proceedings of the IUTAM 2019 Symposium on Laminar-Turbulent Transition, 2-6 September 2019, London, United Kingdom.

What are you looking forward to most in your area of expertise?

On the one hand, I'm really excited to see what the industry leaders or aerospace startups will come up with in terms of the next generation of natural laminar flow wings, with a breakthrough in wing drag counts and total aircraft fuel consumption. On a broader scale, I'm following the booming field of machine learning and deep learning applied to numerical fluid mechanics. There's potential for significant advances in flow control, turbulence modelling or simply flow simulations around full aircraft geometries.

What are your career aspirations?

After my PhD, I would enjoy working as a research engineer in the industry and/or leading a team of engineers. I'm keeping all doors open but that obviously includes the aeronautical sector. In these challenging times regarding climate change I believe everyone holds a responsibility to reduce CO2 emissions and I would enjoy to use my knowledge to pitch in towards that objective.

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