I’m Feilin Jia and This Is How I Mesh

I grew up in Shanxi, China. Because my father was a doctor, when I was very young, I had the opportunity to play with many kinds of medical equipment. Alcohol burners and microscopes fascinated me and sparked an interest in natural science.

For my undergraduate degree, I went to Beijing Institute of Technology and during that period I found the mathematical modeling for engineering problems very attractive. Through numerical simulation, the physical world could be understood and predicted quantitatively. I became addicted to this idea. After reading several popular books, I discovered the breadth and depth of this field, dealing with the dynamics of structures, fluids, transportation, and even finance.

In 2014, I came to the U.S. to pursue my Ph.D. degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas. My supervisor was Professor ZJ Wang, a world-leading expert in high-order methods for computational fluid dynamics (CFD). During my Ph.D. studies, I worked on developing cutting-edge, high-order methods suitable for industrial applications. This experience gave me a glimpse into how CFD plays a role in industry. After my Ph.D., I accepted a position as Research Scientist at Flexcompute. Working for Flexcompute has given me much better insight into what engineers and designers really need when it comes to simulation.

  • Location: Belmont, MA
  • Current position: Research Scientist
  • Current computer: HP ENVY Desktop, Intel i7-10700 CPU @2.9GHz, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD running Elementary OS 5.1.
  • One word that best describes how you work: Careful

How do you know Pointwise?

I heard about Pointwise for the first time roughly three years ago during my Ph.D. period. Before that, my colleagues used an open-source tool, called Gmsh, to generate meshes for simple geometries. Three years ago, one of my team members was working on an industrial case with turbine blades and some other devices. He found that Gmsh was not quite convenient nor flexible enough to handle the complex geometries. After a while, he showed us how Pointwise could handle the mesh generation for such complex geometries perfectly, which gave me a good impression of the code.

What do you see are the biggest challenges facing CFD in the next 5 years?

I think it is the convenience of CFD. In recent decades, high-fidelity CFD methods have been proposed to improve the accuracy of prediction, but it is still not very convenient for common users. Many airplane or vehicle designers still have steep learning curves to overcome in order to perform a CFD analysis and improve their design. They have to learn how to generate a good mesh, how to setup a simulation and specify proper numerical parameters, and may also need to buy powerful machines to accelerate their simulations. Any of the above factors could slow the adoption of CFD in the real world.

Some efforts have been made to make CFD more convenient. On the meshing side, Flashpoint, which available in the recent release of Pointwise V18.4, is a major leap forward where the surface mesh can be generated automatically. On the solver side, our CFD solver, called Flow360, provides fast and accurate CFD simulations in the cloud. Over the next five years, I believe more efforts are needed to reduce human intervention throughout the entire CFD process.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on development of CFD algorithms on rotating reference frames in the Flow360 CFD solver.

What project are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of the current project I am working on at Flexcompute because it gives me an opportunity to really understand the magic behind some of the most incredible aircraft I’ve ever seen (V-22 Osprey, a tiltrotor aircraft). This project opens up an entirely new world for me. A tiltrotor aircraft can take off vertically like a helicopter and then cruise like a common airplane. To me, this is simply genius and reminds me of Transformers. What I am working on is extending Flow360 to support unsteady simulations of XV-15 tiltrotors using unstructured meshes. Pointwise is well suited for generating unstructured meshes and has accelerated my development and testing. The animation below shows what I’ve been working on.

Are you reading any interesting technical papers we should know about?

Recently I am browsing papers related to CFD algorithms on rotary wings. One impressive paper I am reading is “Tiltrotor CFD Part I – validation” from The Aeronautical Journal. It involves a CFD simulation for an entire aircraft (ERICA) with two tiltrotors. This work shocked me because it let me know how powerful CFD has become!

What software or tools do you use every day?

Nowadays, during the pandemic, I am using Slack and Zoom to keep in touch with my colleagues. I use Pointwise for meshing, Flow360 for CFD simulations, and Tecplot for flow visualization. For development, I use Vim+Tmux as the editor and Git for version control. I use Google docs for drafting and sharing ideas. I use Shutter for screenshots to record my findings and is the most user-friendly software I’ve ever used among all operating systems.

What does your workspace look like?

Do you plan on attending any conferences or workshops this year?

I may go to AIAA Aviation in Washington D.C. Hopefully I am able to attend it in person.

What do you do outside the world of CFD?

I used to enjoy playing table tennis with my friends before the pandemic. Now, because of the social-distancing rule, I like listening to light music, watching movies, and reading all kinds of books. I really enjoy the book “Houston, We Have a Narrative” by Randy Olson, which teaches me how to express a scientific topic in a narrative way. I also love the book “Understanding Flight” by David F. Anderson and Scott Eberhardt, because it provides almost every aspect of flights from the view of the pilot. Someday I hope to become a private pilot.

What is some of the best CFD advice you’ve ever received?

“Try to split a big goal into smaller chunks and do it one step after another.”

In development of CFD, you’d better spend some time to think about how best to divide it into several actionable pieces before starting. For feature development, there are usually many different ways of implementation. Some of them appear simple and straight-forward, but they may harm other parts of the code in the future. If you randomly pursue one solution, you are likely to feel lost in the middle of the implementation and may have to go back and forth multiple times to correct yourself. You should always have a big picture of the goal in mind and try to split the goal into several parts at the beginning giving you an opportunity to take a closer look at each part and choose the best route to accomplish the goal.

If you had to pick a place to have dinner, where would you go?

Sichuan Cuisine, because it is the best restaurant with Sichuan flavor I’ve found. It is only a five-minute walk from my apartment and its owner is very hospitable.

About Travis Carrigan

A Pointwise engineer helping other engineers solve their meshing problems.
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