Faces of HPC: Ivan Langella
Ivan Langella is a Lecturer in engineering at Loughborough University (previously research associate at Cambridge University). in engineering. There, he researches thermo-fluid science, with a focus on reducing emissions from industrial & aero gas turbines. He uses HPC to predict the combusting flow field inside industrial & aero gas turbines and to research improving the efficiency of engines.
Ivan grew up in Naples, Italy, and studied for his first two degrees there. He came to the UK for his PhD, which he completed in 2016. His work modelling combustion in engines and turbines is heavily dependent on HPC, something he started using at the beginning of his PhD.
Tell us a bit about yourself –where you’re from, what you’ve studied and where,and what some of your outside interests are.
I am originally from Napoli, a beautiful town by the sea in the south-west coast of Italy, where I have been for the first 24 years of my life and where I got my BS and MS degrees in aerospace engineering, from the Federico II University. Since my university studies I have had a profound interest for fluid dynamics and its numerical modelling. This interest, in addition to that for the energy sector in general, made me opt for a career in research.
After a short period of 6 months spent as an experimental researcher in combustion at Yale University, USA, I started and completed my PhD at Cambridge University, UK, in 2016, and continued as a research associate in the Engineering Department of Cambridge University until June 2018, after which I joined the Aeronautical and Automotive engineering dept at Loughborough University as Lecturer My research interests are in the broad areas of thermo-fluid science and computational modelling, including combustion, renewable energies, thermal cooling problems (e.g. reactor cooling in nuclear power plants) and bio-fluids. Besides my scientific interests I like travelling and do various sporting activities from tennis and volleyball to kayaking and skiing. I enjoy playing piano and guitar and listening to music in general. I also have a passion for Latin dances, which I pursue together with my girlfriend.
What is your current job? Describe what you do in HPC. Is this your main interest, or something you fell into?
I have been a Lecturer in thermo-fluid science and engineering at the department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering at Loughborough University since June 2018. My research focuses specifically on turbulent reacting flows, particularly fundamental physics of lean premixed combustion and its application to practical use (industrial & aero gas turbines). I do analyses to identify ways to improve efficiency of and to reduce emissions from practical devices such as industrial and aero and gas turnbines using various modelling strategies for simulations. My main interests are, as specified earlier, in thermo-fluids and their computational modelling in general, thus the research I carry out matches my interests perfectly and I find it very exciting. Nevertheless, my aim is not to limit my research only to combustion but also to investigate other power-generation systems and bio-fluids, for which reason I constantly look forward to collaborative, interdisciplinary projects in these areas.
How did you become interested in HPC? Briefly describe your path into HPC.
The computational modelling of practical devices and in particular of aero-engines requires a strong computational effort to accurately predict the combusting flow field inside these systems. In this light, my path to HPC was both spontaneous and inevitable, and I started to use HPC from the earliest stages of my PhD. I have observed the efficiency and computational capabilities of systems like ARCHER to grow incredibly in the last years, and this has allowed me to investigate more and more complex cases, consequently increasing my enthusiasm towards HPC.
As part of this project we want to celebrate the diversity of HPC, in particular to promote equality across the nine “protected” characteristics of the UK Equality Act, which are replicated in world-wide equality legislation. Do you feel an affiliation with this matter, and if so how has this interacted with or impacted your job in the HPC community?
I have had the opportunity to thrive in an environment, both within and outside the academia, which is truly multicultural, where differences are considered a source of value for the community. I think that HPC and technology in general have a big role in helping to break the mental barriers that, unfortunately, may still exist in other kind of environments. In this regard I give all my support for the promotion and proliferation of equality at all levels, so that we start using our combined strengths to solve the challenges of our time.
Is there something about you that’s given you a unique or creative approach to what you do?
I think that nowadays there is often too much obsession in obtaining results quickly in spite, sometimes, of the fundamental understanding of things. One thing that I do is spend more time in understanding all the details of the subject I am studying. This result may not be optimal in the short term in terms of results, but I definitely have benefited from using this approach in the long term.
Were there any challenges when you first entered the field? How have you overcome these, or do they continue to challenge you?
When I started my PhD I had to put lot of effort in catching up with the "state of the art" in my field. As an undergraduate student I almost believed that there were only few, well-agreed theories out there, and finding out that there are far more points of view in the same specific subject made me struggle to find the direction to follow in my research. With time and experience I learnt how to navigate this ocean. This does not imply though, that I have no challenges now. Computational fluid dynamics is so wide and complex that every new case I investigate there is something new to struggle with and learn, which is exciting and challenging at the same time.
What’s the best thing about working in HPC?
Definitely the possibility of studying both fundamental physics and real configurations in an accurate, time-efficient and cost-efficient way which was unimaginable before. And I cannot hide that I feel a certain level of excitement when I think that I can run thousands of cores at the same time!
If there’s one thing about HPC you could change, what would it be?
HPC is fundamental for my kind of research and thus what is crucial is its accessibility. It is very important in my opinion that HPC is available and affordable, with certainly some due limitations, to any researcher who would like to test some ideas regardless of whether they are backed up by an institution or not. In particular, I would promote advantageous usage of HPC to those individuals who want to do interdisciplinary research, which in my opinion needs to be encouraged more.
What’s next for you in HPC – where does your career lead you?
I will continue to work on combustion, but also expand to other energy-production systems as well as bio-fluids. In each case the use of computational fluid dynamics will be the key element of my research, and thus the use of HPC will be an essential part of what I will do.