Vietnamese fluid specialist in Australia assists homeland with climate change answers

By Phuong Anh   April 18, 2024 | 01:00 am PT
Vietnamese fluid specialist in Australia assists homeland with climate change answers
Nguyen Duy Duy during a field trip to serve his fluid dynamics research at Lake Hume in Australia in 2022. Photo courtesy of Duy
Pursuing a successful career in fluid dynamics abroad, a Vietnamese PhD holder is applying his groundbreaking research to combat climate change and natural disasters in his home country.

Nguyen Duy Duy, 33, works at the Water Security Program at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia. His research focuses on developing models of turbulent flows to address natural disasters and climate change issues.

Duy has recently been named among the top 10 young scientists who are currently working in Australia that will attend the 73rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany this July.

The 10 scientists were selected by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) and administered by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS).

Duy and nine other Lindau SIEF-AAS Fellows will receive a grant to enable their attendance at the event and to take part in the SIEF Research Innovation Tour in Berlin, showcasing some of Germany’s finest research and development facilities related to medicine and physiology, according to information announced on the AAS’s website.

"I am proud to be the only foreigner on the list this year," Duy said.

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings presents an opportunity for him to meet nearly 50 Nobel Prize laureates and 600 young scientists from around the world.

In addition to breaking into the list of participants, Duy surpassed two selection rounds to be among the 14 fellows invited to speak at the conference. His presentation will discuss the application of basic physical equations in fluid dynamics, integrating physical and biological models for water quality monitoring and forecasting.

He plans to present the application of scientific machine learning, a new data analysis method, in his research. This involves incorporating differential equations of nonlinear functions into the loss function when training data for artificial neural networks, yielding more accurate and long-lasting predictions.

This method can be applied in areas with limited observational data, useful for forecasting water resources and quality in developing countries like Vietnam.

Duy's fascination with vortex movements began in middle school after seeing Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night," as he was intrigued by the swirls appearing in the painting.

Later, he recognized the similarity of those swirls to the turbulent flows of fluids, including water and air. Since then, he enjoyed observing this phenomenon in daily life, such as the movement of water in a sink, the flight of a golf ball, or the clouds swirling in the sky.

In high school, as a student specializing in Mathematics and Computer Science at Ha Tinh High-School for the Gifted in the central Ha Tinh Province, he learned that those flows are applied in weather forecasting models, especially for storms.

Interested in river systems and irrigation works through his grandfather, and living in a land of drought in summer and floods in winter, he continued to delve deeper into the study of turbulent flows.

In 2006, super typhoon Xangsane caused significant damage to central Vietnam.

From his house, the teenage Duy watched the trees stripped bare as murky waters flooding the entire landscape. He looked at the same vortices he had always observed, but now they were destructive.

At that moment, he wished to predict the movement of environmental fluids to prevent the devastation caused by floods." That storm shaped my entire research path for the following decades," he said.

After graduating from high school, Duy was admitted to the Faculty of Engineering at the Thuy Loi University, a public school offering undergraduate and postgraduate programs in water resources management, dam construction, irrigation, flood control, environmental management, civil construction, and hydroelectricity.

He then won a scholarship from the Russian government to study Hydraulic Engineering at Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University. He graduated with honors and won a full scholarship for a master's program in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences at Notre Dame University in the U.S., where he studied wave dynamics instability to develop storm prediction models.

Wishing to conduct applied research relevant to Vietnam's environment, Duy pursued a PhD in Fluid Dynamics at the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at University of Sydney in Australia. His research focused on the effects of temperature on stratified turbulent flows.

In 2022, Duy graduated from the University of Sydney with the best thesis award. He currently teaches at the university while working at CSIRO.

Nguyen Duy Duy poses for a photo with his supervisor when after his PhD graduation ceremony at the University of Sydney in 2022. Photo courtesy of Duy

Nguyen Duy Duy (R) poses for a photo with his supervisor after his PhD graduation ceremony at the University of Sydney in 2022. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Duy Duy

After years of studying and working in physics, developing hydraulic models, and entering the research institute, Duy said he realized he needed much broader knowledge.

For instance, working on water quality required understanding ecological and biological models and integrating them into his models, almost like learning entirely new knowledge."I had to dive in, work more, come home later every night, and still work on weekends," Duy shared.

Over the past year, Duy has transitioned his project to new goals, expanding its scale from researching a few individual rivers and lakes to expanding entire river basins or large deltas.

To serve his study, he applied artificial intelligence and machine learning. But with scarce observational data in this field, he then had to learn and find solutions on his own.

Professor Dr. Nguyen Trung Viet, Vice President of Thuy Loi University, is proud of his diligent and intelligent student.

Now a colleague, Viet said he appreciates Duy's efforts in promoting international research cooperation. Duy has brought Australian experts to collaborate with the university and organized lecture series and workshops to raise students' awareness of the environment.

"I admire Duy for how he always turns towards Vietnam after many years living and working abroad," said Viet.

Besides research and teaching at the university, Duy has been volunteering to teach physics to high school students since 2016, using vivid, relatable examples to help students understand lessons.

He believes that despite deep research, basic physical laws remain the most important foundation.

Thinking that the more solid one's knowledge, the simpler one can explain, he sees each teaching session as a test of his own understanding.

Once, while lecturing on cosmology, his students kept asking questions because they did not understand. Although he knew the answers, he could not explain them simply to 11th graders, so he had to read more books and reorganize his knowledge.

After many years connected to Physics, Duy sees flows everywhere. He believes hobbies like learning languages, playing musical instruments, and painting help him transition from a chaotic state to a balanced one, like the movement of stratified flow.

These days, Duy is participating in a program to enhance the capacity of people and businesses in the Mekong Delta on climate change, co-organized by the Vietnamese Intellectuals and Experts Association in Australia and the Australian Embassy in Vietnam.

"I hope to participate more in scientific education activities, inspiring research in young people," Duy said.

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