"I love what I do because the problems I work on are challenging. In a field such as fluid mechanics, with a long and proud tradition, there is not really any low-hanging fruit left."
Where did you grow up? Were you always interested in your current field?
I grew up in Adelaide but lived in Auckland then Zürich before moving to Sydney.
I have always been interested in learning new things, and understanding how everything works, so it is likely that I have always been interested in fluid mechanics (and science and maths, in general), without actually realising it. I was raised on LucasArts graphic adventure games (The Secret of Monkey Island, DOTT, Sam & Max: HTR), so the fact that I still rely on computers a lot is probably not a surprise.
Are you working from home? If so, how’s it going?
I am working from home and, to be honest, I kind of hate it! Do not get me wrong, I very much like my house and being in my house, but I have always tried to keep my work- and home-life separate. Having said that, I do enjoy the length of my commute these days, and the proximity to a post-work gin is far more encouraging.
Do you have kids/pets at home that are helping/hindering?
I live alone so, while some people are being helped or hindered by kids and/or pets, I have personified my Furby to be both, and they are now helping me to slowly break into the Furby-fan market on Twitter (that has been ever so elusive, until now). I am clearly dealing with social isolation in a very healthy way.
What projects are you working on?
I am currently working on various projects that all centre around fluid boundary layers and transition to turbulence. For example, I use the paradigm flows of solid objects, rotating in quiescent fluid, to understand transition to turbulence (including roughness-induced transition) in unsteady, three-dimensional fluid boundary layers. This, and most of my research, provides the potential to advance developments in a broad range of areas, including aerofoils, aeroengines and spinning projectiles, health and medicine, and industrial and electrochemical applications etc. I am also involved in some work that aims to design a forebody of minimum overall length that allows for laminar unseparated flow, as well as a project that examines transition to turbulence in temporally and spatially evolving flows using blocked pipes.
What do you want people to know about the work that you do?
I want people to know that when I say I use computational fluid dynamics to solve particular problems, I do not mean I am using expensive plug-and-play CFD software to do it. Problems in fluid mechanics, especially those in regimes where the flow can become turbulent, can be fickle at the best of times. If I cannot see what a code/software is doing, how can I be satisfied that the output is adequately resolved, and the solution(s) converged? Fluids obey the laws of physics and so should my results. Rather, I solve exact equations: I do direct numerical simulation (DNS) using a spectral-element discretisation of the equations that govern all fluid motion. Then, I turn my binary velocity field output into delightful pictures.
Why do you love what you do?
I love what I do because the problems I work on are challenging. In a field such as fluid mechanics, with a long and proud tradition, there is not really any low-hanging fruit left. To discover something new, or to unlock new understanding, is special. All of my publications are significant in my field, and I am proud of all of them. Additionally, I have an aggressive fondness for brightly coloured, temporally evolving iso-surfaces of fluid velocity, so that is a bonus.
What is one specific thing that you have achieved (research or otherwise) that you are most proud of?
I am probably most proud of my effort to change the way mathematicians, and mathematics, are perceived by the broader community. Strengthened by being selected as one of ABC RN’s ‘Top 5 Under 40’ in 2017, I have tried to demonstrate (especially to young women) through my outreach activities, the pervasiveness of maths and mathematical modelling, and their relevance to every facet of life. This culminated in being named a Eureka Prize Finalist in 2019 for ‘Promoting Understanding of Science’. So I was pretty proud of that.