Dr. Ernest Goh joined the School of Engineering as a Mechanical Instructor at the beginning of the 2016/17 Academic Year. We asked Dr. Goh a few questions, and he was happy to share!
What is your educational background – schools, degrees, theses of note (etc.)?
All my three degrees (B.Eng, M.Eng and PhD) are from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. My M.Eng thesis about the Atkinson cycle engine, while my PhD thesis is on optimisation of wind turbine placement using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation, validated by tow testing.
Why did you become an engineer – who or what inspired you?
My father, who to this day still works in the engineering company he founded, inspired me. As a child I was always awed by what he built. Whenever I was given a challenge to build something, such as a school project, I would start building it myself and the result was always not as impressive as I would like. Then I would ask my father for help and he would always turn my pitiful prototype into something that works smoothly, and survive the rigours of transport, set up and demonstration. Even in recent years, whenever I work with him on commercial projects, I still admire many of his designs which epitomizes elegance and reliability.
What student experiences of your own do you count as a high point(s) and challenge(s)?
A high point as a student was my undergraduate final year project. The goal was to build a pole balancing robot, which is an event in the Singapore Robotics Games. Although I could not get it to work in time for the competition, because it was held in the middle of the academic year when I had just finished building the first iteration of the prototype, by the end of the second term, it could accomplish the requirements of the competition. Moreover, I had developed a mathematical model to take into account the non-ideality of terrain and built the sensors and circuitry to put the mathematics into proven practice. The combination of a new theory and its application into a successful design was very satisfying.
Why did you choose to work at UBC’s Okanagan campus – what brought you here?
I started out with merely the goal to acquire some overseas academic experience. I chose Canada because after reading as much as I could about various potential destinations, I felt that Canada is a place where inclusivity and receptivity to people from all backgrounds is very well established. I applied to universities throughout Canada that had vacancies which I felt I would be the right fit. UBCO offered me this instructor’s position and I was delighted to accept it. The realisation that the Okanagan is a beautiful place with moderate climate only came much later.
What are your research interests and current projects?
On the pedagogical aspect, my interest is in online and blended delivery of courses. Being new in Canada, I would first like to have an understanding of the attitudes towards and current practices in such a mode of delivery. To that end, I have joined the UBCO Online Teaching Community. Once I have a better idea of the state of practice here, I plan to propose a project and research in this area.
On the engineering aspect, my interest is in building an Enclosed Narrow-Track Electric vehicle. I have recently secured the donation of a tilting three-wheel motorcycle frame and, together with another instructor, have two capstone project teams working on it. One team is responsible for the enclosure and mechanical subsystems, while the other is responsible for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
What is the significance of your research — what are the implications?
According to a City of Kelowna report, this city the highest per capita ownership of light duty vehicles and a high proportion of commuters in single occupancy vehicles, resulting in on-road transportation being the largest source of greenhouse gases here. Using a three-wheel tilting motorcycle as a base vehicle offers numerous advantages. Firstly, with tandem seating (one behind the other) the aspect ratio of the vehicle becomes long and slender, resulting in a very low drag coefficient, CD. We have proven in the wind tunnel that it is less than 0.2. Secondly, the frontal area of tandem seating is also half (or less) compared to a standard compact commuter car, thus multiplying the effect of the excellent CD. This low drag reduces the battery capacity required to achieve a useful range and hence even when charged from a domestic electrical outlet, charging time is reasonable. This eliminates the need for specialized charging infrastructure which often is a barrier to widespread adoption of electric vehicles. We estimate that the fuel economy will be 0.72 litres of equivalent electricity per 100 km (Le/100km), or 326 mpg. Consequently, the CO2 emission will be about 0.16 g/100km, using electricity from the local supplier FortisBC. Parking requirements throughout the city will also be reduced and if BC legalises lane-splitting (like in many other jurisdictions around the world), it also delays the need for costly road expansions. I feel that is a solution that is good for the environment, the city planners, taxpayers, and the family budget. Unfortunately, funding for the project has been limited so far but I am trying my best to overcome this obstacle.
What engineering compound, materials, or equipment do you find most fascinating, and why?
Right now, I am most fascinated by strand-oriented ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene. I am so amazed that the humble material used in plastic bags can be processed into a fibre that has a much higher strength to weight ratio than steel. This requires understanding of the material down to the molecular level, coupled with techniques to turn the theoretically required molecular arrangement into a practical product.
What most excites you about the future of applied sciences? About the School of Engineering?
Applied sciences turn fiction of the past into reality in the future. So many of the things we use and do now were dreamed about a long time ago. I remember watching a movie when I was a child, in which one of the characters was in a business suit walking along the street when his son’s voice came out from a little box clipped onto his collar. He pulled the device closer and talked into it to carry on the conversation. Aren’t we all doing it now with our cellphones?
UBCO’s School of Engineering, being located in a relatively smaller city, is in a good position to bring engineering innovation to the region. Many of the innovative practices in bigger and more industrialized cities may be applicable to ours, perhaps with adaptation to the local context. I hope that our graduates will bring that spirit of innovation to the region when they join the workforce.
What do you like about living in the Okanagan (special hobbies or interests outside of work)?
My interest is generally in the outdoors. I was a boy scout since the age of 10, and even served as a scout leader in my former high school until my early thirties. Hiking, camping and exploration of the rural areas are what I like. In recent years, Singapore has become much more urbanized and such opportunities are dwindling. Now, coming to the Okanagan has opened up new places for me to explore. Previously, I could only experience these in a tropical setting, but now I have the chance to try them out in all four seasons. Just last weekend, I went skiing for the first time in my life!