University Courses in Mechanical Engineering that I Could Teach

0. Hey fellowbloggers (or at least my blogreaders),

These are the times of recruitment for faculty positions in India. As you know, I, too, am trying (once again!).

In academia, my main interest is neither administration nor for that matter even teaching in the sense the word is often understood in India, but, mainly research, and also, course development (as is possible at autonomous institutes  (but Somaiya, headed by Prof. Shubha Pandit, who as a student was senior to me at COEP by just one year, didn’t even call me for an interview, or bother to reply my query emails.)).

1. A List of the Mechanical Engineering Courses that I Could Teach:

Here is a list of courses in Mechanical Engineering that I am confident I could teach, despite having had my bachelor’s and master’s degrees only in Metallurgy. The list is indicative, and not complete. I have tried to order the list in the decreasing order of my preference. Thus, the courses appearing near the top is what I am currently most interested in teaching, esp. at the master’s level. The level at which these courses get offered is also indicated in parentheses. The courses in italics are the courses I taught most recently.

  1. Computational Fluid Dynamics (BE/ME)
  2. Finite Element Method (TE/BE/ME)
  3. Fluid Mechanics (SE/TE)
  4. Heat Transfer (TE)
  5. Mechanical Vibrations (TE)
  6. Advanced Stress Analysis/Elasticity (ME)
  7. Fracture Mechanics (ME)
  8. Strength of Materials (SE)
  9. Thermodynamics (SE)

As you can see, they span over two sub-divisions currently routine in Indian universities: thermal, and design. But more troublesome to the Indian academia is the fact that I jumped from Metallurgy to Mechanical, and therefore, they insist, I must teach Materials Technology.

2. A Special Note on Why I Should Not Teach Materials Technology:

Despite my academic degrees, I am not at all interested in teaching Materials Science/Engineering/Technology at any level. There are a few reasons for that.

(i) My Own Personal Reason:

Teaching a course does build a sort of vortex of ideas or an “ideas-sink” in which your mind gets drawn, at least for the duration of one entire semester. But, at my age of 52 (soon 53), I don’t have enough time at hand in my life to still be led away from my core research interests: computational mechanics/engineering.

(ii) Empirically, and statistically, it’s also not very good for all the students :

I also honestly think that the existing professors/others do a better job teaching it, at least at the SE level. This, in fact has actually been the case.

When I taught Materials Technology last (to SE students), the “top” 10% of the class was happy to very happy, with some students on their own coming in and gushing an almost embarassing kind of praise on me. [Drop a line to me and I will give you some quotes, though for reasons of breach of trust and confidentiality, I will not divulge the names of the students themselves]. (The “top” students need not have been class toppers, but they did tend to cluster somewhere towards the top; certainly they were above class average.)

But the in the final University examination, more students failed my course than what has been the historical average at the college where I taught. Reason?

I tend to explain well (even “average” students have told me that, not just the “top”), but in a “theoretical” subject like Materials Technology, what the below-average (and even average) students need is a sequence of those point-by-point model answers, whether explanation accompanies it or not. I try, but tend not to actually deliver very well, on that count.

Further, the average or below-average students also need a lot of “drilling in,” and I am not as good at it as other professors are, because as I focus mainly on supplying explanations: on fundamentals and how they connect together, and how they lead to something of importance in practice. In the process, I either tend to forget the drilling-in part, or the lecture-time simply gets over. All the three parts of (a) finishing the syllabus and, (b) also supplying explanations, and (c) also drilling in for the below-average students, is practically impossible for me. I can do (a) and (b) but not (c). Other professors probably do (a) and (c) and tend to ignore (b). But they are more successful as far as University exam results are concerned.

So, it’s an empirically established fact that I actually do poorly (or at least not as well) on the Materials Technology course at the SE level.

As to the student praise, they have also rushed in and gushed an almost embarassing sort of praise, also for the other courses I taught. But in spite of praising me, their performance on the final University exams was not affected much adversely. In fact, in all these other courses, they performed either slightly better or even noticeably better, than what had been the past historical average at the college. Why? Here is my reasoning.

The University examinations for these courses involve “sums” i.e. quantitative problems. If I still focus more on fundamentals and conceptual explanations in the class, and discuss only an outline of the problem attack strategy (and the reasons why) in the class, and then assign the full solution for home-work, the students do “get it.” They somehow go home, try some “sums,” and thereby manage to get both: a better conceptual knowledge, as well as the development of the examination-taking skills. At least, statistically speaking. And, at least as per my actual, empirical, observation.

In constrast, when it comes to Materials Technology, home-work assignments doesn’t work, because students simply copy from each other, or write some shortened versions of paragraphs from a locally published book, without ever pausing to think what they were writing. They, in essence, they take down a dictation from the local book. (Some had even had their brothers and sisters take down the dictation from the book, complete with a noticeably different hand-writing.) So, when it comes MT, my teaching + home-work is not an effective strategy. (Copying goes on also in other courses, but the fact that the problem on examination would be an unknown “sum” (at least one with different numerical values!) induces them to at least work through some of the assignment problems.)

But for Materials Technology, since the University examination emphasizes descriptions and not quantitative problems, or not even some “theoretical” but objective questions really probing deeper aspects, it requires a different kind of a drilling-in technique on the professor’s part. I am, as I said, not good on that count—and in fact, never was, ever in my life, even when I was a student myself. My lack of the “skill” shows in the results of my students.

This is an indication of the kind of reasons why I should make for a better professor for the listed courses rather than for the one course that seems to be a favorite one for the interview-committees: Materials Technology.

The interview committee members, if they read this blog, would now know how dumb a question it is to ask me why I don’t want to teach MT, and how much even dumber it would be for them to do resource planning or time-table scheduling assuming that I would handle MT. The empirical facts concerning the University examination indicate otherwise, despite my sincere and honest try at it (even if the matter was against my explicitly stated preference). And, if you now doubt my sincerity (as Indians are likely to do), go ask my students of MT—including those who failed in the final University examinations (or on my class tests). They themselves will tell you the real story. Then, if you wish, come back and share it with me. I remain open to that possibility—if you take some effort over and above that requiring to be a Doubting Tom.

3. Guiding Student Projects:

Apart from these, feel free to peruse some 7–8 ideas for student projects at the ME (Mech.) level that I have indicated in this blog recently. … Some of these (and other) ideas, suitably expanded, are good enough to guide at least one or two PhDs in Mechanical Engineering.

I also have quite a few other ideas that I have not even mentioned. For instance, I once wrote extended abstracts for a couple of papers, anticipating that an ME student would join me to work on these, and both these extended abstracts were accepted at a high quality international conference. The papers were based on an idea for an ME project that I haven’t mentioned on this blog. I had to withdraw the papers after acceptance, because I didn’t have an ME student to work with me. (You see, the papers were about CFD, and my friends in Mechanical engineering were busy avoiding polluting their branch with Metallurgy graduates, throwing as many obstacles in my path as humanly possible to them.)

Apart from it all, I could easily co-guide a few projects from the CS and Civil fields.

4. Co-Curricular Development of the Post-graduate Students and Junior Faculty Members:

I could also conduct special short-term courses for final year BE/ME students and/or junior faculty in random areas such as:

  • LaTeX and Beamer (including scalable graphics for manuscript submissions)
  • Python and Its Ecosystem
  • Open Source Packages in CAE
  • CFD with FVM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or using FiPy (but not OpenFOAM))
  • FEM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or SfePy, etc.)
  • OpenFOAM. (Only introductory, but certainly going a bit beyond the tutorials included in the official documentation, or IIT Bombay’s Spoken Tutorials.)
  • GIS using QGIS (Mostly based on Ujaval Gandhi’s tutorials, going just a bit here and there beyond it.)

5. Never Lose the Focus:

But just in case we lose the focus: Please go through the list of the routine courses in Mechanical Engineering proper that I can teach, as mentioned at the beginning of the post. That’s what really counts for the interview process.

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A Song I Like:

Not to be noted for this post [unless I change my mind later]

(Western Classical)
Composer: Franz Liszt
Work: Liebestraum No. 3

[I could not find on the ‘net the rendering that I first heard and still like the most (and as usual, have lost the cassette for it by now). It was quite modern-sounding (it even had drums!), but without ever getting loud, gaudy, or ever overshadowing the original subtlety. Sorry, but I didn’t as much appreciate most of the renderings now thrown up on priority in a Google search on Liszt. (The rendering I heard must have been from ’70s or ’80s, because I had bought the cassette in India, in the late ’80s.)

… The post is technically over, complete with this section on the songs I like too, but I still can’t resist the temptation to share this bit. It’s a quote concerning Liszt which I found being quoted as a part of a doctoral study in music at the Indian University [^]:

“…When Liszt was teaching his famous master classes in Weimar at the end of his life, one day a student brought to him his famous Liebestraüm No. 3. After he played, Liszt was very mad because while performing the cadenza written in small notes (found on the second last page of the piece), the student had played exactly what was written on the printed page. `But you are a pianist now, you have to make your own cadenzas!,’ Liszt spontaneously exclaimed after he played.”


[Minor editing after publication, as usual, is still possible.]




My planning for the upcoming summer vacation

0. Yes, I have deleted my previous post. As I took a second look at it, I thought it was a bit too on-the-fly, and perhaps not worth keeping. (It was about these Lok Sabha elections!) Though I have deleted it, if the need be, I will write a better post touching on the same topic, including my further thoughts about the matter.

For the time being, let me get back to engineering.

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As this academic term nears its end, I have already begun planning for things to do this summer vacation. A few things are on the top of my mind. Let me jot down these, so that I could look back a couple of months hence and see how I did on those matters (or, how the matters turned out anyway).

1. Journal papers on my past research: I need to convert at least one or two of my conference papers into journal papers. This is really on the top of the list because I haven’t had a journal publication during my Ph.D. The reason for that, in turn, wasn’t that my research wasn’t worth publishing in journals. In fact, not to immediately publish in journals was a deliberate choice, which was decided after discussion with my guide, the late Prof. S. R. Kajale.

The reason was twofold: (i) Journal papers tend to undergo a more thorough peer-review, and even if not, in any case, are longer. Since I am naturally so talkative (in a way almost carefree), I was afraid whether I might not end up giving out too many details if it is a journal paper, and at that time (mid-naughties) as now, IPR was (and is) an important consideration. (ii) I didn’t have very good library (eJournals) access back then. I was jobless, would take trips to IIT Bombay for literature review, and both money and the time to go through eJournals was very severely limited (a few hours on one or two days at the most, at a time).

The situation has changed since. I now do have a job in hand, and in fact, I now work in Mumbai. So, more frequent trips to the IIT Bombay library for a longer period of literature review is an easier possibility.

Anyway, the above two reasons are not independent; they are inter-related. As it turns out, I learnt after publishing my conference papers, that an approach very close to what I had taken, had already been developed to much more extent than I was aware of, back then. The method in question is: LBM (the lattice Boltzmann method.) LBM, as some of you might know, has since my PhD times been commercialized, with at least two commercial software packages and at least one Open Source + consulting model software having come on the scene. (And, thus, it turns out that the prudence in withholding details was right—there was commercial value to those ideas, even if it turns out that I was not the first to think of them. (Of course, since I honestly can say that I developed my approach fully independently, there happen to be a few (relatively minor) ideas which I had, and which still haven’t been published.))

Another thing. I have derived greater confidence about the new observation that I had made regarding the diffusion equation. This could come about only after a better literature search.

All in all, I think I am ready to write my journal paper on the diffusion equation now.

2. Journal papers on some more recent ideas: Since my PhD (2009), I also had a few extended abstracts accepted at international conferences (some 4 papers in 3 different conferences), but for some reason or the other, I had to withdraw. (Lack of time, or lack of money to complete the experimental part.) I could begin directly writing journal papers on these ideas now.

3. Short-term vacation courses: I am also proposing to conduct a couple of short-term courses on FEM and CFD.

3.1 On FEM: By now, I have taught introductory courses on FEM 4 times: twice to UG, once to PG, and once to practising engineers. I have enjoyed teaching my latest offering this semester. Since the syllabus at the University of Mumbai was different, there was an opportunity for me to look at FEM from a different perspective than what I had taken. I think I could now synthesize my understanding in a (really) improved (if not “new”) short-term course.

So, I am planning to offer a short-term course of about 7–10 days duration. The audience could be any graduate engineer: (i) PG students, (ii) working engineers, (iii) junior faculty from engineering colleges.

3.2 A novel course on CFD: Another course which I have never taught but which I am deeply interested in, is, of course, CFD. So, I am planning to offer a special vacation-time and short-term course on that topic, too.

Ideally, I would like to keep this course more for those who are interested in deeper insights, via self-study. If there are enough people interested in such a course, then I would rather like to keep the number of topics few, and the focus more on the fundamentals.

Of course, fewer topics doesn’t mean less material. Indeed, in many ways, my planned CFD short-term course would have much more material than a traditional one.

I would be ready cover all three methods side by side: FDM, FVM, and FEM—provided the audience already knows FEM in the context of the usual linear structural (or self-adjoint) kind of problems.

Similarly, in my course, I would like to include at least conceptual introductions to what are considered to be “advanced” topics like moving boundary problems, multiphase (VOF) problems, etc.

Thus, my planned CFD course wouldn’t be tied to (or, actually, be subservient to the needs of) only the aerodynamics problems of the aerospace department. It could easily apply to issues like free-surface flows and cavity-filling issues (if not also droplet formation/interaction—which could perhaps be covered, though I am not sure. (It would have been easier to cover if LBM were to be a part of the course offering, but I guess for an introductory/first course that is also short-term, introducing all the main continuum-based methods of FDM, FVM and FEM is a challenge by itself. No need to complicate it further by also introducing a particles-based approaches like LBM/SPH.)

4. More about the above short-term vacation courses:

4.1 My current view is that for a one week course, 4 hours of class-room teaching in the morning and 1–2 hours of hands on sessions in the afternoon for 3–4 days, will be enough.

4.2. The fees will be reasonable, by today’s market standards (though not just a few hundred rupees, if that’s what I understand by the word “reasonable.”). Since I do have a professor’s job, I am not looking at these courses as my primary career. The fees mainly have to cover the course organization expenses, most of which are beyond my control. On my part, an honorarium sort of payment also would be OK by me—strictly because, to repeat, I do have a continuing job that does pay me now.  That’s why. And, the course-fees do stand to drop if the audience is bigger, though I plan not to take more than 25–30 students per course.

4.3. So there. Drop me a line if you are from Mumbai and are interested in attending one of these courses this summer vacation.

Yet, some final clarifications still are due:

4.4 The courses will not follow the syllabus of any university. Drop me a line or follow this blog if you wish to know the details of the course contents. But, essentially, these are not your usual vacation-time coaching classes.

(There! Right there I kill my entire potential market of student-customers.)

4.5 No software package will at all be covered. If you wish to learn, say, ANSYS, or Fluent, there are numerous vendors out there. For OpenFOAM, there is a group in IIT Bombay, and a company in Pune. Contact them directly. (And no, I don’t even know who are better, or just more reputable, among them. (As far as I am concerned neither ANSYS nor Fluent nor OpenFOAM nor ESI gave me a job even if I was competent, when I was most desparate. Now, I couldn’t care less for them bastards. (And, in a class-room, I usually am far more cultured and civilized than expressions of that sort.))) In my course, I may use some programs written by me in C++ or Python or so. (No, Java continues to be a “no” as far as I am concerned!) But no training on software packages as such.

(There! Right there I kill my entire potential market of working engineers looking for in-house company trainings!)

Alright. More, later. [Of course, as in the recent past, my blogging will continue to remain rather infrequent. But what I mean to say here is that once the ideas of the short-term courses take a more concrete form, I will sure write another blog post to give you those details.]

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A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “chandaa ki kiranon se liptee hawaayen”
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Chitragupt
Lyrics: Verma Malik



MWR for the first- and third-order differential equations

I am teaching an introductory course on FEA this semester. Teaching always involves learning—at least on the teacher’s side.

No, there was no typo in there. I did mean what I just said. It’s based on my own personal observation. Teaching actually involves (real) learning on the part of the teacher—and hopefully, if he is effective enough in his teaching (and if the student, too, is attentive and hard-working enough), then, also on the part of the student.

When you teach a course, in thinking about how to simplify the ideas involved, how to present them better, you have to mentally go over the topics again and again; you have to think and re-think about the material; you have to see if rearranging the ideas and the concepts involved or seeing them in a different light might make it any easier to “get” it or even just to retain it, and so on. … The end result is that you often actually end up deriving at least new mnemonics if not establishing new connections about the topics. In any case, you derive better conceptual integrations or strengthen them better. You end up mastering the material better than at the beginning of the course. … Or at least that’s what happens to me. I always end up learning at least a bit more about what I am teaching.

And, sometimes, the teacher even ends up deriving completely new ideas this way. At least, it seems, I just did—about the nature of FEA and computational mechanics in general. The idea is new, at least to me. But anyway, talking about this new idea is for some other day. … I have to first rigorously think about it. The idea, as of today, is just at that nascent phase (it struck me right this evening). I plan to put it to the paper soon, work out its details, refine the idea, and put it in a more rigorous form, etc. That will take time. And then, second, I have to also check whether someone has already published something of that kind or not. … As someone—was it Mark Twain?—said, the best of my ideas were stolen by the ancients… So, that part—checking the literature—too, will take quite some time. My own anticipation is that someone must have written something about it. In any case, it’s not all that big an idea. Just a simple something.

But, anyway, in the meanwhile, for this blog post, let me note down something different. An item, not of my knowledge, and not one of even potentially new knowledge, but of my ignorance, which got highlighted recently, during my lecture preparations.

I realized that if one of my students poses a question about it, I don’t know the reason why MWR (the method of weighted residuals) isn’t effective, or at least isn’t often used, and may be even cannot be relied on, for the first- and the third-order differential equations.  (See, see, see, I don’t even know whether it’s a “cannot” or an “isn’t”!) I don’t know the answer to that question.

Of course, as it so happens, most differential equations of engineering importance are only of the second and the fourth order. Whether linear or non-linear, they simply aren’t of the third-order. I haven’t myself seen a single third-order differential equation in any of the course-work I have ever done so far. Sure, I have seen such equations, but only in a mathematical handbook on the differential equations—never in a text-book or a monograph on engineering sciences as such. And, even if of the first-order, in physics and engineering, they often come as coupled equations, and thus, (almost nonchalantly, right in front of your eyes) jump into the usual class of the second-order differential equations—e.g. the partial differential wave equation.

Anyway, coming back to this MWR-related issue, I checked up the text-books by Reddy and Finlayson, but didn’t find the reason mentioned. I hope that someone knows the answer—someone would. So, I am going to raise this issue at iMechanica, right today.

That’s about all for this blog post, folks. Once I post my question at iMechanica, may be I will come back and add a link to it from here, but that’s about it. More, some other time.

[And, yes, I promise to blog about the new idea once I am done working it out and checking about it a bit. It just struck me just today, and it still is purely in the conceptual terms. The idea itself is such that it can (very) easily be translated into proper mathematical terms, but the point is: that’s something I haven’t done yet. Let me do that over, say the next few weeks/months, and then, sure, I will come back and blog about it a bit. I mean, I will sure blog about it way, way before sending any paper to any journal or so. That’s a promise. So, bye for now…]

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I Song I Like:
(Marathi) “yaa bakuLichyaa zaaDaakhaali…”
Singer: Sushma Shreshtha
Lyrics: Vasant Bapat
Music: Bhanukant Luktuke