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History by Prof William K. George, Director of the former Turbulence International Master program at Chalmers Technical University, Sweden.

The Lille/Poitiers International Masters Program has its origins in the highly successful International Masters in Computational and Experimental Turbulence of Chalmers Technical University in Gothenburg, Sweden between 2003 and 2008. In particular:

The rationale for the Lille/Poitiers program is the same:

The implementation of turbulence concepts and ideas is as much an art as a science. This is both because our knowledge is still expanding, and as it does old ideas have to be discarded and new ones assimilated. Also the old ones in turbulence have never worked very well, or only work under very special circumstances. Thus an understanding of turbulence is crucial to carry out successful research and engineering of almost every process involving fluid motion.

The new user friendly software for both computations and experiments means that computations and measurements are possible in many non-turbulence research oriented environments. As a consequence, companies and research institutions expect entry level staff to use these tools. Unfortunately it is easier to run the software (and hardware) than it is to figure out what the software has produced, or even to figure out which software options to run. Yet almost no curriculum provides this preparation to the student, even if he has specialized in turbulence for his doctoral studies.

This masters program (like the Chalmers program before it) introduces the important concepts and methodologies at the earliest possible level, thus preparing the student for a knowledge-based entry into the real world, either in industry or further academic studies. Moreover, contrary to the suggestion that students are too specialized too early, the great breadth of disciplines that must be used to attack the turbulence problem is incredibly broadening. As a consequence, graduates have shown themselves to be remarkably adept at contributing to a wide variety of non-fluids disciplines.

The degree to which the Chalmers program succeeded can in part be judged from the enthusiastic endorsements of Lille/Poitiers program by companies and research institutions who hired its approximately 100 graduates. Former students from 5 continents now work for many of the leading manufacturers in Europe and the USA, and many (70%) went on for Ph.D.’s at some of the world’s most prestigious universities (Cambridge, Imperial College of London, Princeton, Cal-Tech, U. Toronto, RPI, U. Paris, among them) . Interestingly, most of the students who entered the program had expected to go directly to industry, but chose not to do so (at least directly) in spite of the numerous opportunities.

The methodology is the same:

The revolutionary idea of the now defunct Chalmers program was that students could learn turbulence and fluid mechanics simultaneously. This was quite contrary to the usual approach where the study of turbulence had to be preceded by at least several fluid mechanics courses. The problem with the traditional approach is that there is no opportunity to ever really learn about turbulence for the majority of students ~ they either go to industry or become so involved in their Ph.D. thesis work that they have no time for courses. Another problem is that the study of fluid mechanics is mostly about what has been done (often over a century ago). This leaves the student thinking that all of the interesting problems have been solved. The proper study of turbulence is about what is being done, even at the moment. In other words, about a subject very much alive in which almost nothing can be assumed for certain and nothing we know works very well. The Chalmers experiment suggests strongly that a very high percentage of students who choose the program find this to be exhilarating, in part because they can see themselves playing a role in the future. And it also leaves them with a thirst for more understanding, which in turn motivates the study of fluid mechanics and related disciplines.

Another aspect of the Chalmers program which has been retained in the Lille/Poitiers program is the balanced emphasis on theory, computations and experiment. A modern researcher/engineer needs to have all of the tools at his disposal, and uses them in a complementary fashion. The staff of the Lille/Poitiers program have an impressive record of original contributions to all of these.

Finally, the Chalmers program was strongly lab-based. Whether experimental, computational, or even theoretical, all aspects of the program were integrated into hands-on laboratory experience. The goal was to create ~need-to-know~-based learning, so that abstract concepts were immediately put into practice. The Lille/Poitiers program is the same, and perhaps even more so.

The emphasis on creating a sense of community is the same:

Another unique feature of the Chalmers program was the emphasis on community and working together. Students from more than 20 countries learned that there was more to be gained by working together and sharing knowledge instead of competing. In order to be fair to the wide range of experience and knowledge of incoming students, instructional emphasis was on added-value compared to what you knew when you started, instead of just who knew the most. This was accomplished in part by making an active effort to avoid the development of "language subcultures". Staff worked hard to carry out all conversations in English, even when the conversationalists were all Swedish, in order to avoid cutting out the students who were just "listening in". Lab groups were deliberately mixed. Special social functions promoted cultural exchange and integration. Many participants found "friendships-for-life". Almost all found themselves to be part of a large network of friends. For many these friendships across international boundaries have continued long after graduation. A goal of the organizers is that the Lille/Poitiers program can result in the same kind of "family" ~ one that will transcend the program itself and lead to long-term professional interaction.

It improves on the Chalmers ideas:

The most obvious difference between the Lille/Poitiers and Chalmers programs is that the new program is two years instead of 14-16 months. The reason for this is the EU Bologna agreement which mandated a revised structure for European universities. (In fact, it was the need to conform to this agreement that was Chalmers stated reason for ending its program.) Clearly the Lille/Poitiers consortium was able to be a bit more creative by increasing the time for thesis research, expanding the scope of the educational program, and perhaps most innovative of all, coupling the impressive resources of two institutions.

Another significant improvement of the Lille/Poitiers program is the creation of opportunities for language and cultural studies as part of the program. In the first year of the Chalmers program a short two-week course in Swedish was offered, but this was eliminated in subsequent years by the university to save money. While Sweden is relatively language-friendly for English speakers, the lack of any Swedish language skills and external social contacts really did cut international students off from almost any interaction with Sweden outside the university. This was a real shame, since one of the great advantages of studying abroad is the exposure to different cultures. The Lille/Poitiers program has addressed this in a very direct way, not only by making French language courses available, but even allowing them to be used for credit. And it has through the French culture courses also created for-credit opportunities to be exposed to ideas and things that will make a study-visit to France truly unique and memorable. Finally, the location of particularly Lille itself is perfect to begin such a study abroad ~ not least because it is less than an hour by train to three European capitals (Brussels, Paris and London). And the transition from large cosmopolitan city to Poitiers, an ancient (but large) university town, adds a whole different dimension to the cultural experience.

In summary, the Lille/Poitiers International Masters Program builds on ideas that have been proven to be successful. Students in this program will find themselves a part of a much larger network of Turbulence IMP’ers who have gone before.

Prof William K. George

Professor Emeritus, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

Visiting Professor, Ecole Centrale de Lille, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France