Melanie Loots and Ravi Iyer

"We are interested in KTH's progress"

Published Nov 16, 2011

A long tradition of interdisciplinary work. Besides creative research environments, excellent researchers and the fact that there are so many touch points in research. These are probably some of the reasons why KTH's researchers will benefit so much from the cooperation with the University of Illinois.

Why does the University of Illinois want to cooperate with KTH? For Ravi Iyer and Melanie Loots, Vice Chancellor and Assistant Vice Chancellor of research at the University of Illinois, the answer is simple:

“Of course we can achieve more together than acting individually. But above all, KTH has very exciting research, and we also overlap each other well,” says Melanie Loots.

For example, the research being conducted in transport engineering and the railways in the United States and Sweden share the same challenges as regards the transport of people and goods, and we can therefore benefit by sharing each other's knowledge:

“We are interested in the progress KTH has made with regard to train comfort, and from our side, we have conducted research in rail track analysis which KTH will most certainly be interested in,” says Melanie Loots.

Ravi Iyer concurs when it comes to the benefits of cooperation:

“KTH has extensive knowledge of energy and control systems, key elements of smart electricity networks. This is an asset. We need to look at all aspects in this area for the future. We should not solve the problems in the area in one way here in the United States, and in another way in Sweden. We must work in the same way. So energy systems are an area in which we can achieve very much together,” he says.

Social aspects

And similarly in the field of chemistry, there are many common interests within for example battery research, energy storage and smart electricity networks.

“We see an extraordinary excellence at KTH in these areas. But it is important that cooperation is long-term, and that industry is also involved as a partner.  Industrial cooperation is not a matter of course; we must constantly work on maintaining the relationship between academia and industry. And it is not just about financing. New problems in society are constantly arising and these must be solved; this requires regular communication,” says Ravi Iyer.

He was one of those included in the American delegation that visited KTH in May of this year and agrees that researchers from the University of Illinois regard their colleagues at KTH as both open and pragmatic. It is extremely positive that there is no territorial thinking involved which can throw a spanner in the works, he points out.

“Cooperation has a social aspect that we must take into account. At the same time, KTH researchers seem to be good at thinking outside the box.  When it comes to each of the universities' financial situations, there are differences, and we have something to learn from KTH in this particular respect,” says Ravi Iyer.

One of the University of Illinois' famous strengths is the multidisciplinary approach adopted in many research projects.

“But are we as interdisciplinary as we would like to be? No.”

“Are we ahead of most other universities when it comes to multi-disciplinarity? Yes,” says Ravi Iyer.

Started with satellites

He highlights the Beckman Institute, a research centre where more than 600 researchers are active in fields such as "Biological Intelligence" and "Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction". The Institute is one of the university's flagships.

“Many of our laboratories and departments offer mobility and an opportunity for researchers to act across several scientific fields. This is fundamental to our interdisciplinary work.  It is easy to cross departmental boundaries here,” says Ravi Iyer.

The University's multidisciplinary ambitions have evolved over many decades. In the 1950s when the Soviet Union sent up its first satellite, a researcher at the University of Illinois received a call from the United States' military. The question was:  can you double-check to see if the Russians really do have anything in space?

“The researcher had to ask for help from colleagues in several other disciplines in order to find out whether the Russians had succeeded. Together they quickly built up a relatively simple radio telescope that could verify the Russian satellite, Sputnik 1. So one can say that our multidisciplinary approach was already a cross-fertilisation of electrical engineering and astronomy,” says Ravi Iyer.

According to Ravi Iyer the University of Illinois is a more flexible university than many other American seats of learning.

“Many researchers come here to study our laboratories for that very reason. Right now, we have, for example, a large Indian delegation at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign,” he says.

Text:Peter Larsson

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