This is an article I didn’t want to write. My professor Cees van Rhee passed away last weekend1. This was devastating news for his family and all those who surrounded him at the TU Delft. Cees was still enjoying life, he died doing his favourite hobby: fishing. Always looking ahead, he was determined to be my promotor for my PhD. project. I know him already so long. When he was doing his PhD. project, I was graduating on my masters in the same lab. It would be fitting to be his last PhD. student. Fate has decided differently. As he was a public figure, you will receive in the news probably some factual biographies about him2. But he was so much a person to me, that I want to highlight some of his thoughts and contemplations for you.
When Cees assumed his position as dredging professor3, he set three goals to work on:
Bring the department of dredging engineering under a single faculty
Improve the quality of research and education
Make the dredging community conscious of designing equipment for performance
He managed to merge the civil engineering branch and the mechanical engineering branch of the dredging engineering department as one of his first feats as new professor. The second goal can be sensed from the enormous increase in publications during his tenure4. And not only in the usual dredging literature, but also in highly regarded scientific journals. A standard he also imposed on my own PhD. project. The final goal is a real dot on the horizon and is therefore harder to achieve. He engaged with the rest of the dredging community through his numerous activities for the CEDA. Bringing his academic perspective to the industry.
In response to the drivers for dredging: population growth, transport demand and sea level rise, he saw the following challenges:
Continuous innovation to stay ahead of the competition
Re-allocation of labour for the manufacturing of equipment
Understanding the dredging processes on a fundamental level
Development of AI for supporting optimal operation
These challenges are still valid and are a sign of his visionary academic approach to dredging. Most of the research are contributing to solve these challenges. As a leader of the department of Dredging Engineering he lead his colleagues into a solid self-supporting team of specialists. I think we are still in a good position to tackle the challenges, but have to be careful to maintain this advantage.
Cees left a legacy of a high academic standard for dredging engineering. Torn away from life and so many projects ongoing, there will be a lot of loose ends to tie. And I am proud, that I can be part of it. When I approached him for my PhD. plans, he suggested to follow certain ideas that have been slumbering around, but were dormant because by now everybody uses finite element applications to study those problems. He was really happy that I came along with my old school analytic competences to pick up that gauntlet. I have some promising preliminary results already. And I am so sorry, he will never be there to enjoy the results that confirm he was onto something good.
‘Never too old to learn’ is my motto. Everyday I look around me and I wonder how this beautiful world fits together. Whether it be the stars in the sky, the waves at sea or life as we know it, there is always something to be learned about it. At school, I was not a great pupil, but I was always curious to learn more. For my master thesis at the Delft University of Technology, I investigated the performance of a dredge and made recommendations to improve its operation1. As the project was more focussed on mixture forming (and turbidity) and the redesign of the auger head, there was no attention for the soil mechanics involved in the cutting process.
Now is the time to get that straight. In my daily business, I came across several projects where the clay cutting was a real problem. This was one of the triggers that sparked my interest in sticky clay and made me pursue a more detailed investigation into this nasty stuff. I am very grateful my management was willing to grant me time to go back to the university and start a PhD project with professor Cees van Rhee to learn more about clay.
Clay is a completely different material than sand or rock. Those are either plastic and non-cohesive or elastic and cohesive. Clay is the worst of both worlds: plastic and cohesive. It can be described with certain soil parameters as e.g. undrained shear strength and internal friction angle. The failure model is based on Mohr’s circle etc. But those are all continuum approaches2. When you zoom in to the particle level of clay, a whole new world opens up. I already wrote about the interesting particle interaction in a previous post3.
It appears, that the consistency, deformation and failure of clay is related to the tiny electric charges distributed over the platelet crystals. The movement along the charges needs energy. The model to describe dislocation energies along electric charges has been studied by Ludwig Boltzmann4,5. His model governs a wide range of applications, ranging from cosmology to particle physics. I really plunged into the deep end of science with just simple clay. It already took some time to get my head around the concepts involved. Slowly it dawns on my what possibilities there are to improve our understanding of the cutting of clay and possibly to improve our products eventually.
My ‘old professor’ de Koning was a proponent of ‘thinking with your hands’6. Professor Vlasbom encouraged me to graduate on a practical problem and also my current professor van Rhee suggested to do some preliminary experiments with sticky stuff to get some feeling about what I am going to study. Of course I took some clay home to play with it. But the best suggestion was by my colleagues, who thoughtfully gave me stroopwafels7. The ultimate representation of sticky non-Newtonian stuff between layers of latticed disks.