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Q & A: Professor Richter on Retirement

By Ellen Frye

Horst Richter first came to Thayer School from his native Germany as a visiting researcher in 1972, then joined the faculty in 1975. During his 33 years of teaching, he chaired the department, initiated exchange programs with the University of Aachen and Bundeswehr University in Hamburg, Germany, and created one of Thayer School’s first courses for non-engineers, ENGS 2: The Technology of Sailing. He retires at the end of spring term.

Photograph by Douglas Fraser.
Professor Horst Richter. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.

How does it feel to be retiring?

It’s bittersweet. As one would say in German, I have “one smiling and one teary eye.” I will have more time to travel with my wife and spend time with the children and grandchildren. But Thayer School is such a wonderful place that it is hard to leave.

Will you still do any engineering?

I still want to do a little research. There is still some work to be done in thermal spraying. I think it is great that Thayer School is starting a new initiative on energy, and I would like to be involved in some way, maybe only as an observer or have maybe half a foot in the door.

What drove your research interests at Thayer?

The first research I was involved in was nuclear reactors with Graham Wallis. We worked with emergency core cooling systems. I had the largest lab Thayer School ever had — next to the Dartmouth power plant. We had a pressure vessel that we used to test the emergency cooling nozzles of reactors. And we needed a lot of steam from the power plant. We had fun. Later I worked on improving power plant efficiencies. Then I got more interested in computational fluid dynamics. One thing about Thayer School is that you can do the research you want to do. You are not constrained by a sign on the office that says “Energy.” If there is research worth doing, you can do it.

How did you get involved in doing computational fluid dynamics for America’s Cup yachts?

After the U.S. lost the America’s Cup in 1995 I met with a good friend, the preeminent American yacht designer Olin Stephens. He had designed at least five America’s Cup boats that all won. He lives in Hanover, so we meet frequently and talk about boats. At the time, we were contemplating why we lost the Cup. He thought that more attention should have been paid to the performance of sails. I mentioned that we could use computational fluid dynamics to evaluate the optimum sail shape. So we approached Young America, one of the new syndicates for the America’s Cup 2000. We wrote a proposal, and they provided us with money to study sails. I had two grad students working with me. I learned a lot and it was exciting.

Are you still involved with the America’s Cup?

The America’s Cup is underway in Valencia, Spain, right now. We did some work for the American boat. As soon as the Cup is over, a new design cycle will start, and I hope to get involved again. On other sailing issues, I am working with the Sailing Yacht Research Foundation to try to improve handicap rules. Big boats sail against small boats. How do you handicap them? The critical issue is the performance of sails under various wind conditions. Further, I would like to publish a paper on computational fluid dynamics for sails in a more scientific sailing journal — and show some good graphics about the air flow around sails.

As you look back on your career, what advice would you give students who are starting theirs?

My students ask me: What should I do? Where should I go? I tell them, get a job where you can have fun because if you don’t have fun, you waste your life. It’s not the money that makes you happy, it’s the fun you have in your work, which will reflect on your whole life, the “pursuit of happiness.”

For more photos of professors past and present, visit our Faculty Flickr page.

Categories: The Great Hall, Q&A

Tags: faculty, research

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