A childhood passion for sailing led Mathieu Courdier to a naval architecture career. Now he is tackling the hydrodynamics of underwater vehicles for his PhD, work which won him last year’s prestigious Stanley Gray Fellowship.
Tell us about your current role
I work within the National Centre for Maritime Engineering and Hydrodynamics, tackling the hydrodynamics of underwater vehicles. It is part of my PhD at the Australian Maritime College, University of Tasmania. It’s a new area of research.
You have just presented your work at the IMarEST Stanley Gray lecture series. Tell us more
I was invited to talk about the ‘Seakeeping Behaviour of a Surfaced Underwater Vehicle’ as a recipient of a research grant for my PhD.
I presented my PhD work on underwater vehicles (UVs). These can be military submarines, but Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are widely used for industry and research purposes too – yes they are usually yellow! We use them a lot because there is no other way to effectively explore, monitor and understand much of the world.
My speciality is the torpedo-shaped UV. These have been optimised to be efficient while submerged. But they also need to spend a substantial amount of time at the surface, to go back to a mother ship for example, or to communicate, send or receive data, or reorient themselves – or even to get fresh air.
Their hydrodynamic behaviour at the surface is not well known. It cannot really be compared to a regular surface vessel and we need to know more.
The methodology I’m using is Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). Basically, I create numerical models that represent the hydrodynamics of a surfaced UV and compare it to experimental data. CFD is much more flexible and means we can test designs even before building anything.
What future role do you think will AUVs have?
We increasingly depend on the oceans for energy, for food, for transportation. The only way to effectively manage this is with machines that go underwater. From a military perspective, it is the least detectable way of moving anything.
We expect the use of UVs/AUVs to double in the next 20 years while they get better at doing the hard things we need.
You specialise in naval architecture. What inspired you?
I grew up around Paris, France, but always looked forward to spending weekends on the coast in Brittany on the family’s sailing boat.
After a few years I stopped waiting for the weekends and joined a naval shipbuilding course.
There I discovered that instead of drawing boats and submarines in my notebook, it could become my job. My passion finally became an everyday activity where I was working in the industry and designing submarines.
Naval architecture was part of my Engineering MSc and during my studies I worked for Naval Group, the French industrial company which designs, manufactures, and maintains naval boats and submarines for the French Navy. It has also been chosen to deliver 12 submarines to the Australian Defence Forces.
Best career advice you’ve been given…
Enjoy what you do! It’s easy to be good at something you like.
How has IMarEST membership helped you?
I truly enjoy the conferences and talks which are always very interesting. As a newer member, there are more IMarEST things I want to get involved with.
You won the Stanley Gray Fellowship in 2020, what difference has it made?
It is obviously a tremendous recognition of the quality of the project we’re doing here in Australia, and it gives some financial support that will allow me to gather more experimental data to validate numerical models more accurately.
All in all, it allows me to do more, better!
I believe research has to be accessible to everyone. They were 550+ people registered for the April IMarEST Stanley Gray Lecture: Seakeeping Behaviour of a Surfaced Underwater Vehicle, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to reach so many people on my own. We need research to percolate into the ‘real’ world so that what we do has meaning.
Where do you want your career to go from here?
Firstly, I’ll try to finish my PhD. In the long run, I’d like to find a position somewhere in between academia and industry. I want to participate in R&D, but I want the research to be accessible and to have direct outcomes that make our ocean use better, more sustainable, and safer.
Mathieu Courdier is a PhD candidate at the Australian Maritime College, University of Tasmania, and winner of the Stanley Gray Fellowship.