Archive for » February 11th, 2015«

CORNELL CLOSE-UPS | Prof. Charles Williamson Discusses Sailing, Approach to Education

By MADELINE COHEN

Whether Prof. Charles Williamson, engineering, is planning one of his performative teaching demonstrations, sailing on Lake Cayuga or researching sustainability practices, he said he is constantly inspired by the successes of his students.

Williamson — who is the Willis Carrier Professor of Engineering — said he gained his interest in engineering early in his life, when he and his father built boats.

“I lived on boats until I was four, one of which was a 135-foot diesel-powered Pilot ship” Williamson said. “When I ultimately lived in an actual house, and found [its] cellar, I called it the engine room.”

After spending the majority of his childhood sailing on and repairing boats, Williamson said he did not apply to college immediately after secondary school.

“Instead, I worked at a sail-making company in southern England,” Williamson said. “I became a specialist at finishing off the sails, but also an expert in polishing the floors and emptying rubbish.”

Williams said his work at the sailing factory fostered his enthusiasm for engineering.

“When I was sailing, and working at the factory, I always had to repair things and put things back together, which I suppose fueled my interest in engineering,” Williamson said.

After receiving his Ph.D. in fluid mechanics from Cambridge University, Williamson went to work at an offshore engineering company in London. While he was on holiday at a regatta in the south of France, the company “went bust,” he said.

“[I used] the money that [the engineering company] left me … to travel around America,” he said. “Losing my job was the best thing that ever happened [to me].”

After he returned to London, he started offering private tutoring sessions to students in the city. His first pupil was Prince Pavlos of Greece.

“I taught him high school mathematics,” Williamson said. “That was my first time teaching, and when I realized that teaching could be fun.”

Williamson said he was a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology when he was first offered a teaching position at Cornell.

“I was attracted by both Lake Cayuga as well as by the faculty in fluid dynamics and turbulence,” he said. “A mathematician from Cornell came and found me in the library at Cal-Tech and showed me a brochure on Cornell — in particular some yachts on the lake — which tipped the balance to apply for a professorship.”

Since arriving at Cornell in 1990, Williamson said he has tried to engage students by using a demonstrative approach to teaching.

“We put on a bit of a show, where it looks to the students like it is all spontaneous, but it actually isn’t. But don’t tell them that, please.” Williamson said. “We have to practice up to one week before. If you don’t plan ahead, I guarantee it falls flat.”

Bill Nye ’77 has been a guest lecturer in Williamson’s fluid mechanics course many times, which is “the most fun thing ever,” he said.

“In fall 2013, we set up a smoke vortex cannon, and we shot vortex rings across the entire room, which is absolutely incredible to watch,” Williamson said. “Last time Bill was there, we also had his dancing partner, as well as the cameraman, from Dancing With the Stars, learning about vortex rings.”

Williamson also works to engage with students outside the classroom — he has been the faculty advisor for the Cornell sailing team since 1999.

“We won third place in the women’s national championships two years ago, mostly because we have a fabulous coach, Brian Clancy, some great sailors and wonderful facilities at the new Merrill Sailing Center,” Williamson said. “Now they have just transitioned into a Varsity team with the help of some amazing alumni.”

Williamson said his experience at Cornell has been defined by the success of his students.

 “The reason Cornell is so great is [because of] the quality of the students,” said Williamson. “I have had about 300 undergraduates and M.Eng. students do research with me at Cornell, and a number of them have won Merrill scholarships.”

Williamson said one of the proudest moments of his life was when he won the Weiss Fellowship — an award for teaching and mentoring students — in 1999.

 He currently has a number of research projects underway including energy harvesting, supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and projects in wing vortex wakes and fluid-structure interactions, he said.

 “We’re doing a project on wind power,” Williamson said. “Our emphasis is on ‘mini-turbines’ that would work in an urban setting and are sculptures in themselves. We are trying to make them strong, powerful, beautiful and self-starting.”

 Williamson said he advises Cornell students to keep their perspectives open.

“I remember being in the tea room at Cambridge, and [everyone] was panicking about what jobs they were going to have,” he said. “But I was just enjoying what I was researching. It’s a luxury if you get the opportunity to hang loose and consider what you want to do next.  In grad school, just like being an undergrad, you have four long years to figure out what you want to do.”

Madeline Cohen can be reached at mcohen@cornellsun.com.


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Sailing Fueled Interest in Engineering for Prof. Williamson

By MADELINE COHEN

Whether Prof. Charles Williamson, engineering, is planning one of his performative teaching demonstrations, sailing on Lake Cayuga or researching sustainability practices, he said he is constantly inspired by the successes of his students.

(Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Staff Photographer)

(Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Staff Photographer)

Williamson — who is the Willis Carrier Professor of Engineering — said he gained his interest in engineering early in his life, when he and his father built boats.

“I lived on boats until I was four, one of which was a 135-foot diesel-powered Pilot ship” Williamson said. “When I ultimately lived in an actual house, and found [its] cellar, I called it the engine room.”

After spending the majority of his childhood sailing on and repairing boats, Williamson said he did not apply to college immediately after secondary school.

“Instead, I worked at a sail-making company in southern England,” Williamson said. “I became a specialist at finishing off the sails, but also an expert in polishing the floors and emptying rubbish.”

Williams said his work at the sailing factory fostered his enthusiasm for engineering.

“When I was sailing, and working at the factory, I always had to repair things and put things back together, which I suppose fueled my interest in engineering,” Williamson said.

After receiving his Ph.D. in fluid mechanics from Cambridge University, Williamson went to work at an offshore engineering company in London. While he was on holiday at a regatta in the south of France, the company “went bust,” he said.

“[I used] the money that [the engineering company] left me … to travel around America,” he said. “Losing my job was the best thing that ever happened [to me].”

After he returned to London, he started offering private tutoring sessions to students in the city. His first pupil was Prince Pavlos of Greece.

“I taught him high school mathematics,” Williamson said. “That was my first time teaching, and when I realized that teaching could be fun.”

Williamson said he was a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology when he was first offered a teaching position at Cornell.

“I was attracted by both Lake Cayuga as well as by the faculty in fluid dynamics and turbulence,” he said. “A mathematician from Cornell came and found me in the library at Cal-Tech and showed me a brochure on Cornell — in particular some yachts on the lake — which tipped the balance to apply for a professorship.”

Since arriving at Cornell in 1990, Williamson said he has tried to engage students by using a demonstrative approach to teaching.

“We put on a bit of a show, where it looks to the students like it is all spontaneous, but it actually isn’t. But don’t tell them that, please.” Williamson said. “We have to practice up to one week before. If you don’t plan ahead, I guarantee it falls flat.”

Bill Nye ’77 has been a guest lecturer in Williamson’s fluid mechanics course many times, which is “the most fun thing ever,” he said.

“In fall 2013, we set up a smoke vortex cannon, and we shot vortex rings across the entire room, which is absolutely incredible to watch,” Williamson said. “Last time Bill was there, we also had his dancing partner, as well as the cameraman, from Dancing With the Stars, learning about vortex rings.”

Williamson also works to engage with students outside the classroom — he has been the faculty advisor for the Cornell sailing team since 1999.

“We won third place in the women’s national championships two years ago, mostly because we have a fabulous coach, Brian Clancy, some great sailors and wonderful facilities at the new Merrill Sailing Center,” Williamson said. “Now they have just transitioned into a Varsity team with the help of some amazing alumni.”

Williamson said his experience at Cornell has been defined by the success of his students.

 “The reason Cornell is so great is [because of] the quality of the students,” said Williamson. “I have had about 300 undergraduates and M.Eng. students do research with me at Cornell, and a number of them have won Merrill scholarships.”

Williamson said one of the proudest moments of his life was when he won the Weiss Fellowship — an award for teaching and mentoring students — in 1999.

 He currently has a number of research projects underway including energy harvesting, supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and projects in wing vortex wakes and fluid-structure interactions, he said.

 “We’re doing a project on wind power,” Williamson said. “Our emphasis is on ‘mini-turbines’ that would work in an urban setting and are sculptures in themselves. We are trying to make them strong, powerful, beautiful and self-starting.”

 Williamson said he advises Cornell students to keep their perspectives open.

“I remember being in the tea room at Cambridge, and [everyone] was panicking about what jobs they were going to have,” he said. “But I was just enjoying what I was researching. It’s a luxury if you get the opportunity to hang loose and consider what you want to do next.  In grad school, just like being an undergrad, you have four long years to figure out what you want to do.”

Madeline Cohen can be reached at mcohen@cornellsun.com.


Similar news: