Member Profiles

We invite ISTVS members to discuss their work and their origins as engineers. You never know what might come up!

Cor-jacques Kat

Editor's note: At the 17th International Conference of the ISTVS in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S., at which we were celebrating 50 years of ISTVS, there was also a great representation in what we might call the new guard, active younger members doing exciting terramechanics research. We connected a couple of pairs up to interview each other. Daisy Huang of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Cor-jacques Kat of the University of Pretoria interviewed each other!

Cor-jacques Kat, as interviewed by Daisy Huang

How did you get into your field (that's a boring one, but I can't avoid it!)?

Well, after my first year at university I was pretty frustrated and had serious doubts that I made the right career choice. I did not understand how all the math fit into what an engineer was suppose to do. Luckily in the first semester of my second year I got involved in Baja and saw how all the math and theory is applied to real world engineering problems. I learnt a lot from the Baja faculty advisor, Prof Schalk Els, and realized that there was still a lot I could learn from him so I continued with my postgraduates studies with him as my supervisor. That is the short version of how I ended up in the vehicle dynamics field. 

Was there any other career you almost went into?

O yes! There were two careers that I considered strongly and engineering was surprisingly not one of them. I never saw myself as an engineer, but that was mainly due to the stereotype image I had of an engineer:) I saw myself as either a reconstructive surgeon or a marine biologist. I taught that being a reconstructive surgeon I would be able to improve people’s lives, and being a marine biologist I would have the best office in the world. However, one day I heard of bio-mechanical engineering and that sparked huge interest in me and effectively started by career in engineering. 

What are your hobbies outside of work?

I love to travel. I like learning of different cultures. Learning new languages. I love outdoor activities and to stay fit. 

Are most of your friends doing similar work, or do you engage with lots of people in different types of careers?

I have a lot of friends in- and outside of the engineering field. I like to diversify as I believe that you can get exceptional ideas from unexpected places.

What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?

Professionally I see myself actively promoting engineering to young people as an exciting career with endless opportunities. I would also like to, which ever branch of engineering I might be in, make a positive contribution to society and hopefully improve the quality of life. 

If you could ignore the laws of physics for one day, what would you do?

Wow, this is a difficult question. First of all I would consider myself fortunate that I understand some of the important implications of the laws of physics. I would however love to be able to manipulate (not ignore) gravity. Flying around like peter pan as always been a fantasy. If however all laws of physics are ignored for this one day, and it applies to everyone, I would probably just stay home. I would not like to be in the chaos outside with cars, planes etc. floating uncontrollably in every direction.  

If you knew you had only a year left to live (but would be hale and hearty for that whole year), what would you do with it?

Okay, an even harder question. My answer is going to be boring and well-taught through. If I say that I will quite my job and do the things that I always wanted I would be in big trouble and would definitely have to reconsider what I’m currently doing. I have always tried to have a balance between work and recreation and to use every day to the fullest. I aim to do everything I do as best I can and to make sure I stop to enjoy the amazing things the world has to offer that we so often take for granted. So, I think I won’t change much just try and use every second I have and make sure that I don’t waste one opportunity. I would however love to take a month, charter a sail boat and just chill some where tranquil and beautiful with some of the special people in my life. 

If you could meet yourself at 14 years of age, what advice would you have for him? And do you think he would be happy with what you are doing now?

The questions aren’t getting any easier, are they? I would probably tell myself: Don’t worry about the things you cannot control, live life, do things that scare you, take changes, meet new people, be rational but with a hint of emotion, and always make time for the important things in life which you will get to know as you go through life. Then I would tell myself that I will be come an engineer and pursue a PhD at which point I would probably burst out laughing.

Daisy Huang

Editor's note: At the 17th International Conference of the ISTVS in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S., at which we were celebrating 50 years of ISTVS, there was also a great representation in what we might call the new guard, active younger members doing exciting #terramechanics research. We connected a couple of pairs up to interview each other. Daisy Huang of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Cor-jacques Kat of the University of Pretoria interviewed each other!

Daisy Huang, as interviewed by Cor-jacques Kat

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you decide that you would like to become an engineer? Was there anything that inspired you?

From a very young age, I wanted to be either a writer or a biologist. I still write, but I gave up biology when I arrived at university as a freshman and saw how very many chemistry courses were in a biology curriculum. I am dreadful with chemistry and almost failed it in high school, so there was no way I was going to pursue that path. I loved my physics class in high school, so I thought about switching my major to physics, but I also knew that that would be committing me to going directly to grad school as there aren’t very many jobs for folks with only a bachelor’s degree in physics. I wanted to work for a few years right after undergrad, so I chose mechanical engineering as the next best option. It turned out to be an excellent fit, as most of my coursework and industry work have been enjoyable, and most of my peers have been similar to me in personality, and we get along well. I’m still in touch with my high school physics teacher and his wife; I’ve told him time and again how he led me to my current career, and he and his wife came up to visit me in Alaska last year.

From our many interesting conversations at the 2011 ISTVS Conference I understand that you are working on snow mechanics. What are you working on these days and how did you get into this field?

To put it simply, I am doing mid-scale (on the order of centimeters) mechanical testing of snow in attempt to extract mechanical properties. What makes it challenging are the logistics. As you’re probably aware, there are dozens of different types of snow. I’m only interested in the sort that folks have to drive on long-term, such as occurs here in Fairbanks. After the beautiful sparkly flakes fall to the ground, they immediately begin metamorphosing into bland-looking, uniform crystals. However visually bland they may be, they are what sit on the roads and trails all winter, and luckily for me, they maintain fairly constant and uniform mechanical properties. So I test them both in situ, and I gather them up on cold days and bring them into my lab for storage and tightly controlled testing. Fairbanks is so cold and dry that the crystals are very "pure," i.e. they have very little liquid water content, so this is a great place to study the purest form of snow and isolate it from the other factors that vary with time or place.
How I got into this field was that I wanted to do something that was unique to my location in Alaska. I also approached another professor about doing work with him in solid state physics, but I could have done that back in the Silicon Valley, where I’m from. Snow was compelling to me because it utilizes this fantastic natural laboratory we have. And also, getting to spend some days skiing with my dogs collecting snow samples is a bonus. 

How do you stay up to date with the state-of-the-art technologies and information in your field?

The number of people in my field of snow research is pretty small, and most of us are in at constant, at least tenuous contact, as we proceed with our research. I also am in contact with glaciologists and avalanche researchers. They aren’t so interested in snow behavior on roads, but we are all interested in snow and can share a lot of common ground. Also, I attend conferences, read papers, etc.

What is the most exciting project you’ve ever worked on?

Hah. I’m going to take the easy way out here and say that the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on involved developing new process recipes when I was working at Applied Materials. The chemicals involved there were so toxic that I could have killed myself or caused a major explosion if I did something wrong and that would have been lively indeed.

What’s the most meaningful and/or rewarding aspect of being involved with engineering?

To me, the most rewarding aspect of being in engineering is that my work has immediate applicability to other people, and while the nitty-gritty details and the math might be inaccessible to nonengineers, everyone can understand the gist of what we do. We make things. We build things. We do tangible things. The output of my work, for example, will eventually be better snow tires, skis, sleds, maybe even vehicle dynamic systems. These are things that ordinary humans understand and use and benefit from. So many jobs today don’t have any tangible output, and while I realize that they still need to be done to keep the world turning, I don’t think I could do them.

Do you have a hobby that you keep yourself busy with (and balanced) outside of work?

I run 3-7 miles every morning, and I love to ski, and skijor (where my dogs, who retired from a sled team, pull me on skis). In summer, we hike and go berry picking. I have several gallons of blueberries and cranberries in my freezer right now, still waiting to be turned into jam. Although I love my field work, most of my work time is still at my desk, so I don’t really have any sedentary hobbies, other than reading, which I love. I have tons of leisure reading, besides academic papers. Right now I’m reading this: [Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes][]

Which invention or engineering feat would you consider as the one thing the world can not go without? Why?

This is a tough one. I’m tempted to go way back and say the wheel or agriculture, but there were early societies that thrived and prospered without either of those things. So I’ll go further back and say language. Without communicating with each other and communicating each generation’s accomplishments to the next, we’d be nothing. The modern explosion of this, of course, is the internet. But for millenia, there were books, and that is awesome.

Daisy Huang at University of Alaska Fairbanks
Recently published on Journal of Terramechanics: Sensitivity analysis, calibration and validation of a snow indentation model, with Jonah Lee

Vladimir Vantsevich

Hello — tell us a bit about who are you and what do you do.

I am a ground vehicle engineer working mostly in the area of multi-wheel designs with applications to terrain trucks, farm tractors and construction equipment, and military vehicles. I am a Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), teaching and doing research. 

What are you working on now? Can you share some images — photos or data welcome! 

Currently, I am working on several research and design projects related to innovative tire damping control, minimizing tire power losses of a mobile robot, and designing driveline systems for terrain trucks, as well as developing the vehicle and robotics engineering thrust in the undergraduate and graduate curricula at UAB.

Do you have a first childhood memory of engineering something?

My first childhood memory of engineering something was when I was six years old. My mom was going on a trip to Sochi and I desperately wanted her to catch a monkey for me so that I could keep it as a pet. To prove to my parents that I would be able to take care of this pet, I designed and built a house out of cardboard for the monkey to live in. 

Did you have a specific “aha” moment when you knew that you wanted to focus on engineering?

I knew that I had to become an Automotive Engineer during my undergraduate career when I began working with my Mentor, Dr. Anatoly Lefarov. 

Describe your path to becoming a engineer. Have you had any mentors along the way?

My mentor, who was the Head of Research Group on multi-wheel vehicles, Dr. Anatoly Lefarov, was an outstanding automotive engineer, professor, researcher and person. He inspired me to devote my career to terrain vehicle engineering. His constant support and teachings greatly impacted my career and after 17 years of working with him, I became his successor of the group.  

What does a typical day look like for you?

On a typical day, I am busy working on my research projects and teaching my students.

Are there things that you want to tackle 5 to 10 years down the road?

In the next 5-10 years, I would like to tackle multi-domain and multi-scale systems in vehicles and robotics.

What are your current best sources of news and information for staying up on your field?

To stay current in the field, I regularly receive information on published journals and books and read the ones that are applicable to my research and future plans; I attend at least 3-4 professional conferences per year. Working with industry also allows me to stay current on the latest and future designs and developments. 

If you weren't doing what you're doing now, what might you have gone into?

I really enjoy reading about history. I am very interested in American and European history so if I had not become an engineer, I believe I would have been a historian. 

What’s your favorite food? ッ

My favorite food is everything that my wife cooks! 

Photo taken in China summer 2012: Dr Vantsevich was the Program Chair on Commercial Vehicles at 2012 VTI Conference and also organized/conducted the panel on Vehicle Electrification and Electronization.

Photo taken in China summer 2012: Dr Vantsevich was the Program Chair on Commercial Vehicles at 2012 VTI Conference and also organized/conducted the panel on Vehicle Electrification and Electronization.