An eminent academic whose expertise in aerodynamics contributed to consecutive victories in the Tour de France, has accepted a key leadership role at Heriot-Watt University.
Professor Bert Blocken is the new lead of the University’s aerospace programme, with plans to install a state-of-the-art wind tunnel at the Edinburgh campus, equipping students with a new, hands-on learning experience.
Our students will get the opportunity to learn about wind tunnel testing and computer simulation with computational fluid dynamics, including theory, applications and hands-on training.
He previously worked as aerodynamic advisor to the professional cycling team, Jumbo-Visma, which culminated in back-to-back Tour de France titles in 2022 and 2023. Professor Blocken described the maiden victory in 2022 as the ‘most beautiful and emotional moment’ in his scientific career.
He joins Heriot-Watt from KU Leuven university in Belgium on November 1 and will be based at the Edinburgh campus.
Commenting on his aims for the new role, Professor Blocken said: “I want to provide our students with a unique aerospace programme that not only includes the traditional aerospace engineering courses and topics, but that also educates them in atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) flows and sports aerodynamics.
“ABL flows are those close to the surface of the Earth, where people live and most of our activities take place. The ABL height can go up to about 3km depending on the weather conditions and are highly turbulent, often complex flows, such as what is experienced during the take-off and landing of airplanes. They are also essential in the study of outdoor and indoor air pollution, heat waves in cities, storms and storm damage and wind energy.
“Our students will get the opportunity to learn about wind tunnel testing and computer simulation with computational fluid dynamics, including theory, applications and hands-on training. In this regard, the intended wind tunnel on campus should provide these students with a unique learning experience.”
Professor Blocken’s research interests include fundamental and applied research in aerodynamics, with a past focus on atmospheric boundary layer flows, sports, wind tunnel testing and computational fluid dynamics. He is currently working on a formal collaboration with the world governing body for sports cycling, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), to support them in developing guidelines towards fairer and safer racing.
Recalling last year’s historic victory in the Tour de France, Professor Blocken said: “It had been a long-time goal of the collaboration between Jumbo-Visma and its partners, including myself as their aerodynamic advisor.
“It was extra special because I had the privilege to see the team develop from the proverbial ugly duckling in the peloton, one of the weakest teams, in 2013-2016, to the very beautiful swan, one of the most successful teams it has been over the past years.
“This Tour de France victory was somewhat unexpected. In 2021 we already had been close but we lost it on the one-but-last day. That was also the biggest disappointment in my career.”
Welcoming Professor Blocken to his new post is Professor Igor Guz, Executive Dean of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, who said: “Professor Blocken is an exceptional appointment for this University who has a remarkable track record in scientific research.
“His extensive expertise, dedication, and innovative approach, make him an outstanding addition to our academic community and to lead our aerodynamics programme into a new era of growth and achievement.”
To find out more about Heriot-Watt University’s Aerospace Engineering course visit the website.