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[IAHR Talks] Interview with Silvia Meniconi. Focus on hydraulic transients

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Silvia Meniconi“My main research contribution is in the diagnosis of pressurized pipe systems using hydraulic transients. Small pressure waves can be a powerful tool for detecting any faults (e.g., leaks, blockages, wall deteriorations, illegal branches) in pipes. Part of my satisfaction in this work comes from the fact that we started with numerical analysis, then we conducted experiments in the Water Engineering Laboratory of the University of Perugia, and finally we moved to the real world, where we’ve had the chance to carry out field tests in actual pipe systems…”

Silvia Meniconi, Associate Professor at the University of Perugia, co-leads the new IAHR working group on Hydraulic Transients and shares with us her thoughts on this cross-cutting topic and the importance of cross-collaboration with other working groups and technical committees.

David Ferras, editor of NewsFlash World and vice-chair of IAHR technical committee on Education and Professional Development, interviews Silvia Meniconi.

If your day is a transient event triggered by an alarm clock, what makes it ring?

On my typical days I wake up at 6 a.m., I take my two daughters to school, I go to work, and so on… My alarm bells go off when I have a work trip and need to organize both my job and my family life while I’m away. It’s not easy but I have my safety valves, such as my mother, my mother-in-law and my husband, who understand me and can therefore help me a lot.

You have spent most of your research career at the University of Perugia. How did your stay in TU/e (Eindhoven) as Marie Curie Fellow influence your career?

Yes, that’s right. My research career is based in Perugia, where I did my PhD under the supervision of my mentor Prof. Bruno Brunone. In 2004 I spent 6 months in Eindhoven for a research exchange under the supervision of Prof. Arris Tijsseling. There I had the chance to learn mathematics with him, especially Fourier transforms and wavelet analysis which were both in line with my PhD research. From a personal standpoint this chapter of my life opened my mind, since I’m from a very small town in the countryside of the region of Umbria, in the centre of Italy.

Currently I continue to foster my international profile when I have the chance. For instance, since 2015 I’ve been travelling regularly to Hong Kong where I’m involved with an international project (Smart WSS) led by Prof. Mohamed Ghidaoui that seeks to detect faults in pressurized pipe systems.

Which of your research contributions (paper, thesis, book, conference, ...) do you feel most proud of? Why?

I do hope that the best paper of my life is going to be the next one. This comes from my deep desire for continuous improvement. However, looking backwards at my track record, my main research contribution is in the diagnosis of pressurized pipe systems using hydraulic transients. Small pressure waves can be a powerful tool for detecting any faults (e.g., leaks, blockages, wall deteriorations, illegal branches) in pipes. Part of my satisfaction in this work comes from the fact that we started with numerical analysis, then we conducted experiments in the Water Engineering Laboratory of the University of Perugia, and finally we moved to the real world, where we’ve had the chance to carry out field tests in actual pipe systems. For instance, we executed some tests in the Milan water distribution network and in other transmission mains in Italy. Moving from theory to practice is a very rewarding achievement!

What is your involvement with the IAHR association?

I’m a very recent member --I joined in 2015-- and, honestly, before that I thought that IAHR was mainly oriented towards open-channel hydraulics! My understanding completely changed in 2017 when I had the wonderful opportunity of organizing (together with Moez Louati, Sanghyun Kim, Pedro Lee and Arturo Leon) the first edition of a special session on “Transients in Pipes” during the 37th World Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Its second edition during the 38th World Congress in Panama City, Panama, in 2019 was very successful with 18 papers, and a keynote lecture given by Prof. Bryan Karney.

During our last NewsFlash World interview in November Joseph Lee mentioned how active the working group on Hydraulic Transients is and encouraged the formation of a technical committee. What’s your opinion about this? (current state, plans, vision…)

During the last World Congress, we had a discussion with Tom Soo about the possibility of turning our special session into a permanent session, and he was enthusiastic about this possibility! This comment from Joseph Lee is a great motivation to push forward the initiative towards the creation of a technical committee. Past world congresses have shown that the water-hammer community is composed of very passionate researchers that enjoy sharing their knowledge. A technical committee and all the activities related to it (conferences, workshops, a monograph, etc.) would definitely trigger and accelerate new developments in our field. The field of hydraulic transients has an interdisciplinary nature and as a result can be present in several committees (e.g. fluid mechanics or hydraulic machinery), but maybe now is the time to create a self-standing committee dedicated to our field. 

In the axis of fundamental-applied research, where would you place the working group on Hydraulic Transients with respect to the IAHR association itself?

I believe the main aim of IAHR is to fill the gap between research and practice in hydraulic engineering, and to thereby emphasize the importance of applied research. In my view our working group is slightly oriented towards the applied side. The work of our group has an important fundamental aspect, especially if we think about how we analyse the mechanism of pressure wave propagation, but our ultimate goal is to solve very clear engineering problems, namely diagnosis, design, protection and operation of hydraulic systems.

What synergies would you highlight between the working group on Hydraulic Transients and other working groups or technical committees of the association?

Synergies are essential for the association but also for the development of the technical committees and working groups. In the working group on Hydraulic Transients we have some vital synergies with other groups. For example, within the technical committee on Water Resources Management, we define those engineering problems related to severe transients; in the Fluid Mechanics and Hydroinformatics field we can gain insight on numerical modelling; collaboration with the committee on Instruments and Experimental Methods is crucial for improving experiment design. Let me express this with a Scottish proverb: “there is no such thing as bad whiskey, only some whiskeys that are nicer than others”. Anderson put it this way: “there is no such thing as steady flow, only some flows which are less unsteady than others”. What I mean by this is that transients are everywhere: we have a very cross-cutting topic that intrinsically triggers cross-collaboration.

Is there any specific scientific or engineering development you would like to see in your lifetime?

As you probably know, three weeks ago Venice was flooded by an especially high tide. In Italian we call it “Acqua Alta”, which literally means high water. This was the worst flooding since 1966, and yet this is a recurring phenomenon. It causes severe and costly damage, especially to historical heritage.

Our government is building a very complex and ambitious flood defence system called MOSE (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico); it’s an integrated system consisting of mobile gates installed at the three inlets of the Venetian lagoon that are designed to isolate the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea during high tides. But the multibillion project has been under construction since 2003 and has been delayed a number of times. In October, the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the consortium in charge of the project, confirmed another delay, this time because of vibration in some sections of the drain line pipes.

This is a very important project, not only for Venice but for the whole country, so that’s why I would like to see it completed during my lifetime.

Is there any researcher in your field or outside of your field that you especially admire?

Beyond the scope of my expertise I really admire the developments in the field of hemodynamics. The circulatory system is such an interesting hydraulic system, with this non-Newtonian fluid (blood) flowing through viscoelastic pipes (vessels) and pushed by this very efficient pump (heart). There are a number of very impressive studies integrating hemodynamics with computational fluid dynamics and complex network theory.

What do you do with your spare time?

I have so little free time on my hands that any spare time I do have I spend with my family! Honestly speaking, my job is fun and, even if sometimes it’s hard (and then my alarm bells go off!), I have no separation or boundaries between my life and my work.

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