Hunter of the lost watts
Professor Anouar Belahcen, what do you research and way?
I research magnetic materials that are used in devices that transform electric energy into motion or vis-versa through electromagnetic fields, such as motors and generators. The aim of my work is to help reduce energy loss. On first reading of a generator's efficiency percentage, a two percent energy loss may seem small, but if we suppose that the generator produces 1000 megawatts of electricity, two percent is already 20 megawatts, which corresponds to the annual energy consumption of 10 000 electricity-heated detached houses.
My research can be divided into two areas. Firstly, we measure and model materials and are thus able to optimise motors and generators. Secondly, we explore deeper into the materials themselves; we find out how they are structured and how manufacturing methods affect energy loss levels.
How did you become a researcher?
I knew already when I was taking my matriculation examination that I wanted to study to doctoral level. When I came here for master’s studies, I met a professor who considered my grades to be so good that he offered me work in his research group. In the laboratory, I realised that this is exactly what I had been doing as a child – coiling small transformers. And I’ve stuck with it ever since.
What have been the highlights of your career?
I enjoyed writing my doctoral dissertation, but I often wondered whether anyone else was interested in the things that I was labouring away at. Then one of my articles was accepted for a conference, where I met 400 experts from the field. Many of them came and asked if they could make use of my presentation, and later my article received many citations. It was a considerable boost to my work when I realised that it had real significance.
What is the most important quality for a researcher?
Persistence is definitely the most important thing. In a researcher’s work, sometimes many months and even years go past without any concrete results. Then suddenly, when the critical mass has been obtained, you realise that you actually have something important!
The researcher moves forward patiently, taking small steps at a time, and the prize only comes at the end. Someone who wants quick results should become a designer instead.
What do you expect from the future?
Our first research area, material modelling, is going well. But in the second one, the manufacturing of materials, there is still a lot to be figured out. We are developing a model for it, and I’m sure that when we get this done we will be able to say what needs to be done to obtain what kinds of particular material properties. At this moment, in fact, experimental work is being done – we are testing a particular model to see what its results will be. Our goal is to obtain a certain kind of numerical prototyping of materials.
Anouar Belahcen and the other recently tenured professors at Aalto University will present their research in the multidisciplinary afternoon starting at 14.15 on 12 October. We hope to see you there!
See the lecture programme here