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Professor Andrew Pollard

Mechanical & Materials Engineering

Work hard on your research but consider its implications too


Professor Andrew Pollard

Professor Andrew Pollard, researcher and supervisor

by Meredith Dault

August, 2011

It's fitting somehow, that Professor Andrew Pollard's area of expertise is turbulence. Based in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, where he holds the Queen's Research Chair in Fluid Dynamics and Multi-scale Phenomena, Dr. Pollard has dedicated his life to working with fluid mechanics. "If it's fluids, I do it," he laughs, explaining his work over tea at a Kingston café. “I do aerodynamics, I do open heart surgery stuff, I do canonical flows, I do energy related work and I develop new computer algorithms and experimental methods to help explore fluid mechanics problems.”

But when he talks about turbulence (“the last unsolved problem in classical physics”), his eyes light up. “What turbulence is about is complexity,” he says. “Imagine that you have a handful of sand, small pebbles, and larger pebbles and they’re all different colours. If I put them in my hand and shake...that’s what turbulence is.” The fascinating thing, he explains, is in trying to determine where each pebble will fall after they are shaken. “Where would they go?” he asks. “But it also raises the issue of what happens as these pebbles interact with one another.”

Professor Pollard with students

Professor Pollard with PhD student and visiting research student engaged in discussions about fluid flow in the human heart.

It’s that question of interaction that seems to drive Dr. Pollard’s work, both within the academy and outside of it. Because when he’s not fixated on fluids, he is devoting his attention to one of a handful of his other engaging projects: from building communities, and forging connections, to seeing the possibilities inherent in bringing things and people together. “I’m an engineer,” he says with a shrug. “I like making things, I like creating things... but the things that I work to create are perhaps less tangible than what my (academic) counterparts might create. I wouldn’t necessarily create a widget, but might instead see the creation of another form of a caring, compassionate, socially responsible community as an invention. You’re still helping to invent something that didn’t exist before.”

Deeply committed to the issues around energy and the environment, Dr. Pollard is the Director of the Sustainable Bioeconomy Centre at Queen's. Made up of different Schools and Departments from within the university community, Dr. Pollard says they are all united around a single focus: "weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and moving into renewable sustainable future." With a knack for bringing people from diverse communities together, Dr. Pollard says the group's interdisciplinary nature is also its strength. "We end up with people who have different backgrounds that ask questions in a way that only multidisciplinary work can help resolve," he explains. "You get rid of the silos." In fact, he says, Queen's is the perfect place for undertaking silo-straddling research. "As a university, it's large enough, and yet small enough to enable us to bring people together in a collaborative and not necessarily competitive way."

The Director of the M.Sc. Collaborative Programme in Computational Science and Engineering, Dr. Pollard is also the original principal investigator of the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL), an initiative that started as a joint effort between Queen's, the Royal Military College, the University of Ottawa, and Carleton University. It was his work with the HPCVL, as well as the chair of the Board of Directors of an NGO called C3 - or Canadian Computational Collaboratory – now made up of seven high performance research consortia across the country that he says is a highlight of his career. “What we did was develop an atmosphere of sharing of computing resources, people, and knowledge both locally as well as across the country,” Dr. Pollard explains. “It all started in about 1997, and it continues to this day.”

Based at Queen’s since 1981, Dr. Pollard says he first got interested in energy and environmental issues as an engineer-in-training. But he says it was a book he read in the mid-1970s while an undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo that first got him thinking about the planet’s limited resources. “I read a book called The Limits of Growth,” he recalls, “and it scared the hell out of me. Its thesis is we have a finite planet with finite resources, but there’s one thing that’s not finite, and that’s the human population. It’s growing! It forced me to step back and think about “us” on this small orb in the middle of nowhere in particular.”

For Dr. Pollard, it ultimately lead in 2005 to a question of legacy. “I was invited to get involved in the Bio-economy; and as a result this invitation it got me thinking - what’s my contribution (to the world)? What does my time on this planet mean? I have to do something that will be more than 200 papers and 50 graduate student theses! And that’s how I started - I started to think more about the bigger picture. Because I already knew how to bring people together…so how could I draw on that experience to make an impact?” Dr. Pollard says he then started to think about the bioeconomy in ways that hadn’t occurred to him before. “150 years ago someone put a hole in the ground and started pulling up oil and gas, and everything around us now is based on that premise. So the question is how do we change that dependency? How do we find different sources (for energy)?”

For Dr. Pollard, finding solutions for our environmental woes means bringing together people from different communities with different expertise through the Trans Border Research University Network (TRUN). In Kingston, it means not only working within the university community, but also tapping into the city’s healthcare community, and the agricultural and forestry communities, as well as connecting with people in first nations communities, as well as communities in Northern Ontario and in the Northern United States. Dr. Pollard adds that because of the proximity to the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, the group is also focused on protecting the waterways. “Water, energy and the environment,” he says, “those three are so inexplicably linked. The stewardship of these three basic cornerstones of our existence must be our “prime directive” “

At the end of the day, Dr. Pollard says it’s important to keep an open mind and stay receptive to the new ideas that are generated when people come together to solve problems. “It’s a thoughtful, reflective kind of activity,” he explains, “and that’s what I try to instill in my students. You are drilling down intellectually, and I want you to drill down, but I want you to feel comfortable to come up and look at what are the implications of your research.”

For more on Dr. Pollard visit http://me.queensu.ca/people/pollard/

 

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