Swathi Sadagopan

I am currently writing my thesis, the final step in getting my Masters!

Tell us about yourself

I was born in the coastal city of Chennai - home to the second longest beach in the world. My father worked in an insulator manufacturing company and my bedtime stories usually consisted of stories of transmission line or sub-station construction across India. Not surprisingly, I went on to major in electrical engineering. In junior year, I traveled to Fredericton, NB on my first ever plane ride as part of the MITACS Globalink Internship program. That summer introduced to me to research methods the opportunities that existed in Canada. Two years later, I packed my bag and took a 40-hour flight to Montreal which I now call home.

What is your Mitacs project?

The goal of my research project is to design a motor for use in an electric car. Currently, motors used in electric vehicles tend to be of the permanent magnet kind. Such motors possess several qualities that are desirable for use in electric cars but they are also expensive. So, the goal of my work is to design an induction motor for use in an electric car. What is really cool about the project is that the induction motor design I come up will be compared to a motor that is currently being manufactured commercially and then evaluated!

What is really cool about the project is that the induction motor design I come up will be compared to a motor that is currently being manufactured commercially and then evaluated!
 

What have you enjoyed the most about your Mitacs project?

The most enjoyable part for me about this project has been the design process which is iterative. As I learn new things about the current design, I go back and tweak a my initial parameters. The variation in results could be subtle or dramatic and then I try and explain why. So, basically the process of assume, build, test, anlayse, tweak assumption, build again... while hypothesizing why a result is so with my supervisor is the fun part for me.

What have you found most challenging about your Mitacs project?

All of my work is based on computer simulations and each simulation depending on the type of solver can take from 30 minutes to 8 hours. During longer simulations, it is easy to feel like nothing has been accomplished that day. That required changing my thinking a bit - every incremental result adds overall value to the project. I also found other things such as reading papers during the time to come with new ideas I can test.

How has your Mitacs experience influenced your career path?

My research experience has been unique, in that it enables me to work tandem with an industrial partner who might choose to act upon my ideas. I have also come to realize that I enjoy practical application-oriented research more. Thus, my career path will be in an industrial environment. That said, I love writing. So, science journalism is not completely out of the picture either.

How has your Mitacs project impacted the world?

My project revolves around a real world application - electric cars - that is in quite the limelight right now. As I mentioned before, my project work uses feedback from the industry as well. So, what I am doing contributes to the body of knowledge of the industrial partner who might then determine the practicality of the design by prototyping it. In some ways, it is humbling to see how a small aspect of an engineering problem can impact the production process or the cost to the end customer.

The first electric vehicle was built in the 1880s. The problem that prevented widespread adoption of electric cars then was range. Two centuries later, that problem still exists.
 

What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?

The first electric vehicle was built in the 1880s. The problem that prevented widespread adoption of electric cars then was range. Two centuries later, that problem still exists. This fact simply underscores how complex engineering problems are and how many discoveries are yet to come. My prediction is that the next big breakthough will be made in the battery technology.

Who supports your Mitacs research?

My research work is under the Automotive Partnership of Canada project at McGill University. I am also supported by the MITACS Globalink Fellowship award and by my supervisor through the NSERC grant. I am thankful to MITACS and my supervisor, Prof. Lowther for the supporting me through my studies.

What motivates you to do research?

Asking and answering, "So what?" is what keeps me motivated to do my research. When in the midst of all the tiny details, it is easy to lose perspective of the big picture and why this work matters. To constantly keep that in mind is what gives me the energy to keep moving forward.

My aha moment was when my research turned from being a 'can we design a ...' to 'how do we design...'.
 

Tell us about your Eureka moment

My aha moment was when my research turned from being a 'can we design a ...' to 'how do we design...'. Of course, this change happened after some initial promising results. If the answer to 'can we..' had been no at that stage, this project would have taken on a completely different form. It was literally a case of two roads diverged in a wood and the one I took has made all the difference.

Mitacs

Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years. Working with 60 universities, more than 6,000 companies, and both federal and provincial governments, we build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.


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