Energy Harvesting for Smart Systems: Professor Norbert Schwesinger
The DIGEST team had the opportunity to interview Professor Norbert Schwesinger, who has been teaching in TUM Asia since the inception of the Electrical Engineering and Information Technology Bachelor’s programme. He shares more on his research interests on Microstructured Mechatronic Systems and Energy Harvesting and his views on the Electrical Engineering industry in Singapore.
Hi Prof. Schwesinger, can you tell us more about your experience in the Electrical Engineering industry before becoming a professor at TUM?
Prof. Schwesinger: Before I became a professor, I studied Electrical Engineering and completed my doctoral studies at the Technical University of Ilmenau (TU Ilmenau). I started my first job as a development engineer at Relay Technique Grossbreitenbach, and that was when I first developed an interest in MEM (Micro-Electro-Mechanical) systems. To gain more experience in this area, I moved on to my next company at Robotron Sömmerda, where I worked with the use of microtechnologies to develop ink jet print heads. Unfortunately, when the unification of Germany took place, Robotron was one of the many companies that was affected by the economy and had to shut down. I decided to move back to TU Ilmenau and became the director of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories.
How did you come to be associated with TUM and eventually to teach in Singapore?
Prof. Schwesinger: After having stayed for 10 years at TU Ilmenau, I received an offer from TUM to join the department of Micro-structured Mechatronic Systems. It was a new beginning for me in a totally different environment. I started by building industrial relations with companies in Munich and focused my work on microfluidics. Later, I shifted my focus to piezoelectricity and its application in technical devices. I was eventually asked to consider teaching at TUM Asia in Singapore, where a Bachelor programme in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology was going to be established. I agreed without hesitation and took it up as a challenge.
Is there an aspect you have enjoyed about being a professor at TUM Asia?
Prof. Schwesinger: Yes, I enjoy being in foreign countries, especially getting to know new people, cultures and lifestyles. I have been to both Japan and Ireland for a period of time, but Singapore has been a completely new experience for me. In my opinion, Singapore is a great city and a gem in Asia. After a day of teaching, I would usually go for a swim or visit the hawker center for a delicious Asian meal. Besides that, I also enjoyed the professional and organized working environment at TUM Asia. The staff is always friendly and helpful.
Can you tell us more about your research specialty and the module you teach at TUM Asia?
Prof. Schwesinger: My research specialty is in Microstructured Mechatronic Systems. These are mechanical systems that consist of electronic components with extremely small dimensions. These systems can be fabricated with the use of a type of technology known as Microelectronics. Microelectronics are typically sensors which are now found in a wide variety of applications such as mobile devices, cars, washing machines or printers. These sensors allow the devices to detect different physical parameters such as temperature, acceleration and inclination. Especially in view of the Internet of Things (IoT), there is a demand for increasingly sophisticated and smart products, such as ink jet printers or light projectors. Building these products require a large number of sensors and actuators, which are counter parts of sensors. The module which I teach at TUM Asia is focused on these microstructured sensors and actuators.
“THE TASK OF ENGINEERS IS VERY DEMANDING BUT AT THE SAME TIME, VERY EXCITING. ENGINEERING IS LIKE AN ADVENTURE WHERE ONE IS CONSTANTLY MOVING TO NEW TERRITORIES TO ACHIEVE NEW DESIRED GOALS.”
Share with us a recent research topic you have been working on. How do you think it might contribute to the Electrical Engineering industry in Singapore?
Prof. Schwesinger: My present research topic is Energy Harvesting. In this field, we are looking for possibilities to convert wasted energy into electrical energy. With the IoT revolution, there is a growing need for the evolution of new sensors, systems and applications. With this also comes the issue of power supply, because it is almost impossible to connect all sensors by wiring. Batteries are often not a sustainable option due to charging limitations. Energy harvesting could thus be a viable solution to overcome this problem. Currently, energy harvesting still has its limitations such as low conversion efficiency and high production costs, and intensive research is necessary to tackle these issues. In the context of a well-developed country like Singapore, energy harvesting could contribute directly to the success of the IoT and create a new potential for the sensor market, by developing new solutions for power supply and designing distributed sensor networks and nodes.
As an experienced professional and professor in the field of Electrical Engineering, what advice would you give to young and aspiring engineers who are looking to venture into this field?
Prof. Schwesinger: Electrical engineering is a very exciting field that offers dynamic challenges and views. Apart from the general basic laws, electrical engineering is subjected to continuous renewal and advances. While business administrators manage the current state, (electrical) engineers focus on making progresses by constantly creating new products. The task of engineers is very demanding but at the same time, very exciting. Engineering is like an adventure where one is constantly moving to new territories to achieve new desired goals.
Prof. Schwesinger teaches in the Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering & Information Technology degree, offered by the Technical University of Munich. The course is conducted in English, with coursework held in Singapore. TUM Professors fly in from Germany to teach.
If you are interested in the Bachelor of Science degree programmes, more information can be found here.