Zhenning Cai

About his research stay at RWTH Aachen University Humboldt Fellow from Peking University, China, for his Postdoc phase at RWTH from December 2014 to January 2016
Information about our research alumnus

His RWTH host Professor Manuel Torrilhon invited him for his postdoc phase at the Mathematics Division (MathCCES) in the Center for Computational Engineering Science (CCES) at RWTH from December 2014 to January 2016. During his stay, he took part in the ambassador program of RWTH and the Research Alumni Conference organized by the Humboldt Foundation in September 2015.

What was his most rewarding experience in Aachen during his stay and why would he say it is necessary to keep in touch? The following interview will give some answers.

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What is your main research field all about and what is its importance in a broader context?

Concerning my main research field, the short answer is ``mathematical modelling and scientific computing of rarefied gas dynamics''. Just imagine you are at very high altitude where the air density is very low. You might see a lot of weird things. For example, heat transfers from cold areas to hot areas; the air right next to a very hot plate can be very cold; the gas cannot be easily swirled by whirling yourself. My task is to build and solve mathematical models to quantify these phenomena. This is very important in the manufacturing of space crafts and MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems).

Why did you get interested in a research stay at RWTH Aachen University?

The most important reason is the same search area of me and my host. I visited RWTH Aachen University in 2012 and established initial cooperation between two groups. In the same year, my host professor Professor Manuel Torrilhon visited my home university (Peking University) and we discussed something more about our collaboration. Just then, I started to prepare for my application of the Humboldt fellowship.

What was your most rewarding experience here?

There are a lot of valuable things to mention. Here I mention only two points. First, at RWTH Aachen University, I have much more chances to attend international conferences and workshops, probably due to the sufficient fund provided by the Humboldt foundation. This gives me a lot of opportunities to present my research work and get acquainted with new friends. Second, a close contact with the European culture greatly adds to my knowledge. Aachen lets me know about much about European history by showing its historical buildings.

Which tangible outcomes of your stay are most important? What is planned for the future?

For me, the teaching experience and the academical publications are the most important. Now, at the end of my research stay, I'm working on a proposal together with my host to hire a new student to continue our collaboration. In 2016, I will be in the US as a postdoc for one year, and after that, I will probably return to China to be a professor. But the collaboration with my host will never terminate.

What were your impressions coming to Aachen?

As I mentioned, I visited Aachen in 2012. What made me surprised is that when I visited Aachen again at the end of 2013, the city stayed almost the same as more than one year ago. Compared with Beijing, the city I stayed in before coming to Germany, Aachen is changing very slowly, and old stuff can be found everywhere. Also, Aachen is a small but very convenient city. Since I don't drive, I like the way of living in Aachen.

Is there something you think German academia could learn from academia in China or vice-versa?

It is difficult for me to comment on the whole German academia. Comparing my current group with my former group in China, I think the collaboration between group members in my former group is more tight. We had not only seminars, but also very frequent emails about everybody's research. We were sharing ideas every day and thinking of other people's problem every day. But this became less when I came to Germany.

How well did you network or feel socialized during your stay? What would you improve?

Due to the language problem, it is a little difficult for me to be completely socialized. However, I'm feeling very good in all international circumstances. I would probably attend some German language courses to make it better.

Do you have any further comments?

Not really. But I would definitely help other Chinese young researchers for their research stay in Germany.

  • The interview was held by the Research Alumni Coordination in December 2016.