VICKSBURG, Miss. (July 29, 2019) -- When Dr. Brian McFall saw the email titled “Engineer and Scientist Exchange,” his curiosity was piqued. “It was one of those generic-looking emails that most people delete from their inbox,” he said. “But I remember clicking on it because the subject line sounded interesting.”
As a result, McFall, a research civil engineer with the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory at the U.S. Army Engineer Researcher and Development Center, spent a year in the Netherlands working at the Dutch company Deltares as part of the U.S. Army’s Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program.
ESEP is a government-to-government effort aimed at increasing international cooperation between the United States and its allies in military research, development and acquisition. “It’s basically an opportunity to go live in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization country for a year and work with their military defense laboratories,” said McFall. “I was really interested in the Netherlands because they do a lot of coastal engineering and that type of work that coincides quite well with what we do at CHL ⸺ we do a lot of the same kind of research.”
Since the Dutch Ministry of Defense doesn’t have their own research laboratory, and much of the research is contracted out to private companies, McFall was allowed to work at the privately owned Deltares. “As long as the work is approved and supported by the ministry, I could work there and still fall in line with the program,” he said.
McFall and a colleague at Deltares worked together to compile a list of research ideas that would be interesting to both Deltares and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “You essentially write your own position description,” he said. “So we coordinated our efforts on what we thought everyone would be interested in and came up with three research topics.”
“We examined different bathymetric measurement techniques that could be used in a laboratory,” said McFall. “I’ve written up my results into an ERDC technical report that is going through the publishing process right now.”
“We also looked at understanding the wave transformation from deep water to shallow water in physical models, so you can minimize the transition slope,” he said. “We wrote that up in a Dutch report.”
“And we developed a wave model for attenuation in submerged vegetation. It’s a frequency-dependent model that can be applied and installed in any numerical wave spectra model for any country. We recently got that published in the Coastal Engineering Journal,” he said.
In addition to working at Deltares, McFall was able to join the committee of two different master’s degree students at the Delft University of Technology to look at nearshore nourishments and different beach nourishment techniques that could be applied in the Unites States. “It’s arguably one of the most prestigious coastal engineering universities in Europe,” he said. “It was really a great opportunity to both network with researches at Deltares and at the university.”
Another opportunity for collaboration came his way after he gave a presentation about ERDC at Deltares and was approached by the director of Hydralab. “I gave several talks about ERDC and the great research we do at CHL and ERDC as a whole. The director of Hydralab was actually sitting at Deltares, and he came to talk to me about potentially getting ERDC to be an associate partner so that we could work on some of the larger projects that are interesting to both the European Union and to the Corps of Engineers,” he said.
Hydralab is an EU-funded physical modeling experimental supportive research grant similar to the National Science Foundation. “It’s a pretty large program that is funded through the EU with numerous labs throughout Europe,” said McFall.
Although moving to another country didn’t come without its challenges, McFall urges others to take advantage of the program. “It was interesting living in a foreign country. It was different having a bicycle and not having a car. You could also take the train to go anywhere you needed to go. In some ways, we miss that part, because it was really efficient.”
“It was a phenomenal opportunity. I think if anyone has the chance to do it, they should definitely take advantage of the program,” said McFall. “The connections that were made, the networking opportunities ⸺ and not only that ⸺ it’s not just a benefit to the one researcher, it’s really a benefit to ERDC as a whole. So much more progress can be made when multiple people work on the same complex topic than one researcher would by themselves.”