Dr Elena Astroshchenko: Trusting the maths
Dr Elena Astroshchenko has joined the academic staff at CVEN in 2019 as a Senior Lecturer specialising in computational mechanics and numerical methods. She also becomes part of the team at the Centre for Engineering Infrastructure and Safety (CIES). Dr Astroshchenko is a widely travelled and experienced academic. Raised in Russia, she completed her undergraduate and Masters Science degree there, focusing on developing mathematical models for ophthalmology.
Then, off to Canada for 6 years and a PhD.
It was here, at the University of Waterloo, that Elena’s focus shifted to civil engineering, working as a teaching and research assistant while she completed her own research in computational modelling for fracture mechanics.
This research earned her the position of Assistant Professor at the University of Santiago, Chile. “In such a globalised world, broad experiences help expand perspective. Leaning new languages opened up my habitual thinking.” Speaking Russian, English and now Spanish, Elena Astroshchenko is acutely aware of the benefits of global experiences. Elena’s 9-year-old daughter speaks 4 languages: impressive here, but “our European friends say 4 languages is a start but you still have time, you can learn more.”
“In Chile, I came in to contact with people in the arts: writers, translators. Their skill was writing beautifully, effortlessly. Whatever they created sounded like music to me. We were from different worlds, but it was very good to touch those worlds.”
Different languages and different worlds have always been underscored by her love of the language of mathematics, which began in middle school. “From grade 9 I attended a school that specialised in mathematics.” Practice created excellence and now Elena “cannot imagine doing anything else. I love the fact that mathematics is systematic, you start small, you develop these small things in a consistent manner.” Mathematics is trustworthy.
While Elena and her family loved Chile, she hopes to stay still for a little while, here in Sydney, here at CVEN. “I am very impressed with this School and UNSW. It seems big, not only in terms of size, but in its development and possibilities. But the people are very, very friendly, very supportive. I feel like I am home. I love the multi-cultural society here.” Elena will maintain her collaborations with her Chilean colleagues, who provide her with the real-world problems to be solved by her numerical methods. By moving here, she feels she has expanded the possibilities for international collaborations and joint funding opportunities.
One current project with her colleagues from Santiago is about harvesting energy from piezo-electric plates, but Elena’s main focus will be in acoustics: design optimisation for acoustic devices and structures and health monitoring of structures using sound waves. This work in acoustics takes Elena to the University of Luxembourg each year, where she is an associated member of the international Legato team in computational mechanics. Led by Professor Stephane Bordas, Legato “aims at building intuitive and interactive platforms for computational mechanics problems which allow the users to interact with their models and hence gain insights into unconventional and counter-intuitive phenomena.”[i]
Dr Astroshchenko adds: “the applications for numerical methods and computational mechanics are immense. To conduct real world experiments in, for instance, the shapes or materials used for acoustic structures, is very expensive. But numerical solutions are very efficient, once developed, they can be used time and time again.” As computational capabilities improve, the field grows and Elena Astroshchenko is riding the wave of this growth.
Finite Element Method is the central thesis of computational mechanics. It is employed widely, through software, at commercial levels. Elena Astroshchenko propels her field forward by merging this established numerical method with computer-aided design. Isogeometric Analysis (IGA) is a recent innovation that improves modelling of new designs during development, making modelling easier and quicker. Only developed in the last decade Elena is an expert in an elite but growing field. “It is yet to be licenced commercially, but the many advantages of IGA are making it a popular area for research.” Engineering is constantly seeking more efficient and sustainable methods, methods that have commercial application as well as academic interest and it is in this innovative research area that Elena Astroshchenko is building her expertise, contributing to global development.
Other innovative research areas interest this dynamic academic. Boundary Element Method (BEM) offers revolutionary levels of precision in modelling and design. Both IGA and BEMare on the cusp of widespread industry acceptance. It is here we can see that academic imperatives are being fulfilled: being ahead of the game, improving the game and finding solutions to problems which plague the game.
This year Elena will begin teaching CVEN9802 Structural Stability, a postgraduate course that will introduce numerical methods as solutions for the common structural challenges: buckling, non-centralised loading, strut and frame stress and elasticity analysis.
As Elena settles into her new home, she seeks to create collegiate connections with Australian academics who share her enthusiasm for the “universal application of numerical methods. Some solutions cannot be achieved through experimentation, because of practical limitations. But the systematic nature of the numerical approach means design can be optimised and then tested.” While computational mechanics have the obvious benefits of increased efficiency and sustainable use of resources, it also has “lifesaving potential within medical applications like robotic surgery.”
Dr Elena Astroshchenko is very happy to be at CVEN. She is most impressed with the services offered to staff. “They help you with everything, even OHS. I just learned that my computer screen was at the wrong height for good posture. This was a revelation to me!”