12 April has been the International Day of Human Space Flight since 2011; it’s also known as Yuri Gagarin-day, and this year, it will be 60 years ago when he was the first man in space.

An astonishing feat really if you consider the resources they had then, compared to what we know and have today”. We’re catching up with VUB alumnus, Jimmy-John Hoste who graduated in 2013 from the (BRUFACE) Master in Electromechanical Engineering. JJ followed the major in aeronautics, and has since spent his time specialising further in the field, and in particular in supersonic combustion. Today he’s a post-doc at CERFACS, a research institute in France.

Looking at your time and work since you graduated in 2013, you’ve been around a bit!

It’s funny – I’ve travelled a lot since my graduation, but during my studies I stayed in Brussels, apart from an internship in Canada for three months. I felt very happy in Brussels and at the VUB/ULB, and didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else. Then in 2013, I decided to go get a postgraduate diploma in Computation Fluid Dynamics. There aren’t that many places to study this, so I ended up at Cranfield University in the UK. That’s where my eyes to the world opened up. “

In 2015, JJ started his PhD at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland in aerospace engineering, and looking at scramjet combustion modelling in particular. While there he attended summer school in China, and spent time at the University of Queensland in Australia as part of his research. He obtained his PhD in 2018 and was a post-doc at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Germany for just over two years. He started his current position during lockdown in November 2020 with CERFACS, a European research institute based in Toulouse, France, that works in partnership with industry and specialises in combustion in the aerospace sector. He now works on computational fluid dynamics and is enjoying himself, despite the issues the pandemic has caused. “I’ve not really physically met many of my colleagues, and I’ve yet to explore Toulouse, but although starting a new job in these circumstances has been tricky, I’m thoroughly enjoying my work.

JJ looks back at his time at the VUB with fondness. “I got a very sound basis during my studies; some solid building blocks. I still rely on what I learned then today. It’s clear it is a very good study programme, one that compares well or sometimes even better to those from other countries. When you’ve taken distance from your studies, you realise some things that didn’t quite make sense to you while you were a student suddenly do. I now see the logic behind the set-up of some of the courses I had; I see the link now.

What element from your studies stands out the most, looking back?

The personal element. VUB has always managed to maintain that personal interaction, which you don’t get at other universities. You actually get to know your professors and they get to know you. Same with your fellow students; you forge ties with people and interact with all of them. The fact that the studies are concentrated on one campus also helps, “ JJ explains.

What advice would you have for students currently at VUB?

Go with the flow and create your own opportunities. Nothing happens automatically. You need to work at it and start creating your networks. But also enjoy your student years, and go abroad whenever you can! You meet so many people from different countries and it’s how you start building your networks for the future and for your career. “

What does the future look like to you?

I’m just going with the flow still, but I’d like to settle into a more settled job. I very much like what I do now. I’m working on developing numerical tools in support of different research teams at CERFACS, and also in how they are then used by industry. I’m not sure where the future will take me, but it’ll be in a research centre like where I am now, or in industry. The future of space looks exciting though! All new technologies that are developed for space, very much play a role on what gets developed on earth for non-space purposes, especially for use in aerospace, like ice-resistant airplanes, wireless headsets, but also more mundane things like camera phones, scratch-resistant lenses, LEDs, etc. We need visionary companies like SpaceX to push the boundaries. It’s such an exciting time right now.

JJ’s work isn’t directly related to space, but more in the level between space and air travel. We talk about Concorde, the supersonic passenger airliner which operated from 1976 till 2003, when it was grounded 3 years after flight 4590 crashed on 25 July 2000. “That whole quick transport-notion is brilliant, so the idea behind Concorde is phenomenal and a resurgence of it in some shape or form (even faster) would be amazing, and is being currently sought after by certain companies.  Some of the concepts date back from the space shuttle-era but the technology wasn’t completely mastered yet as it is highly complex. The evolution a supersonic plane like that needs to go through, from subsonic, to supersonic, …all this morphing is very costly, tricky and not yet highly efficient. It’s all fascinating though, and I think there’s still a future to develop this quick transport between two places on earth.”

>> Want to find out more about studying for an MA in Electromechanical engineering at VUB? Check out the BRUFACE Master’s programme online.