Thomas Weinhart develops software to design and optimise machinery
Thomas Weinhart is an Associate Professor in the Department of Thermal and Fluid Engineering at the University of Twente. He develops software for designing and optimising machinery on the computer, replacing time-consuming and expensive experimental methods by virtual prototyping. In 2018 he obtained an NWO-VIDI grant, allowing him to intensify his research line: “My vision is to develop a general computational framework for simulating multi-scale, multi-physics processes, with a focus on granular systems. I currently have 8 PhD/EngD students who work on various granular processes, such as 3D printing, sintering, tabletting, granulation, or powder mixing, and computational topics such as the design of a user interface, calibration via machine-learning, and parallel computing. Simulations allow you to study a process in much more detail than is possible with experiments alone. Furthermore, using a virtual prototype, it is much quicker to optimise the process parameters compared to experimental prototyping.”
In 2009, Weinhart founded MercuryDPM, together with Anthony Thornton. “I lead the development of this cutting-edge open-source software for particle simulations. The code has several unique features that make it particularly apt to simulate complex industrial systems. All my research codes are publicly available in this software.” His interest in open science goes further than developing open-source software: two of the students he supervises participate in the Twente Open-science Platform, which aims to make scientific output transparent and openly accessible.
The Associate Professor is also Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of MercuryLab, a spin-off company providing custom software, training and advice to companies on the design of bulk process equipment. “This is a great way to connect with industrial leaders, and learn about the challenges industry faces”, says Weinhart.
“Research and teaching often go hand in hand. In particular, post-graduate teaching focusses on teaching state-of-the-art methods we use in our daily research”, Weinhart explains. “In my case, I teach topics like reduced-order modelling, mixture theory, or how to couple micro- and macroscopic models.” He also supervises BSc and MSc research projects that provide the student with valuable experience in top-sector fields. “The students learn modern practical skills that are highly relevant for their future careers.”
On an undergraduate level, the Associate Professor has taught a variety of courses in mathematics (Calculus and Vector geometry, Theory of ODEs), programming (Programming in Engineering), numerical methods (Advanced Programming in Engineering, Numerical Methods for Transport Phenomena) and engineering (Man-Machine). “These basic courses provide the foundation for many complex research techniques, and discovering these connections is a great motivation for students.” Weinhart also participated in outreach projects like the CuriousU summer festival, which encourages high-school students to take up a Bachelor study in science and engineering.
A German native, Thomas Weinhart studied Mathematics at the Technical University of Munich. He then obtained a PhD in Mathematics from Virginia Tech in 2009. In the same year, Weinhart joined the University of Twente as a PostDoc and went on to become a staff member. His early work focused on developing continuum solvers for modelling wave phenomena. He started to work on granular systems at the UT, first modelling avalanches and chute flows and later more multi-physics and industrial processes.
In 2009, he also co founded the open-source code MercuryDPM, together with Anthony Thornton, as well as the spinoff company MercuryLab in 2015. Weinhart leads a team of 12 MercuryDPM developers, and organises a yearly open-source software development workshop. He is also involved in several extracurricular activities, such as the organisation of conferences, guest editing at journals and running a seminar series, to connect with the other researchers in his field.
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