You don’t get everyday the chance to interview the professor who taught you for the first time about the finite element method.

Fortunately, I got this chance…

**Zoubeir Lafhaj** is the professor who introduced me about the finite element method and… he made it so interesting that I felt the need to understand it in depth.

In fact, I still keep very preciously the teaching material I received when I attended his class more than 10 years before…

There are people thinking that they will forget as soon as they leave the class… and there are people like me who cherish such material for years and come back to it all the time to remember and understand it better and better.

There is an initial investment of time and efforts, but over the years, I saw that learning all this knowledge hugely paid.

That’s why I always wanted to interview Zoubeir one day, so he can also explain to you why the finite element method is so useful nowadays and how engineers can use it to build a better world with engineering and better technologies.

And by the way…

Zoubeir has a special method to teach students which is just fantastic…. and he is talking about it in the video ;-)

**Here are a few things you will learn from his interview:**

- Why finite element method is so important for engineers
- The most important points engineering students should know about the final elements method
- How to understand complex things more easily
- How to become more creative to solve the problems of the society

Zoubeir is a wonderful professor and I am so glad to have been able to have him as a teacher so many years before… !

## Finite Element Method: What is the most important knowledge you should have about it?

Here’s a transcript of the interview:

**Cyprien:**

Hello Zoubeir,Thank you very much for being here!

Before we start I’d like to tell a few words about you…

You are my teacher from 10 years before in France and you are the professor who taught me for the first time about finite element analysis

I am so glad to have you here and to be able to ask you a few questions about that!

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

Thank you so much for your invitation and I am so proud about you

Since 10 years I give you the initiation about finite element method and all numerical methods, and when I see what you have done and I’m extremely proud of you!

I expected you would be a good student because you are one of the best students I had

thank you for your invitation

**Cyprien:**

Thank you so much I really appreciate to hear such a good word from you I wanted to ask you a few questions about finite element method because you are the expert

**Q1: Why do you think finite element method is so important for engineers in companies?**

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

Finite element method is important because we are facing more and more problems and those problems that we are facing nowadays are more complicated than the problems we faced in the last century. The problems now are multidisciplinary, so we are facing problems that are mechanical, thermal, hydraulic and chemical at the same time and for that we need a powerful tool and extremely precise tool which can deal with heterogeneity and dynamics at the same time and I think that the finite element method is extremely useful for such problems and the problems of the future.

**Cyprien: **

So you have more than 20 years of experience teaching the finite element method to engineering students, **Q2: what do you think is the most important to know for students about final elements?**

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

For me the most important for students is that they have to come back to the basics which are very very important.

Theory for the finite element method is extremely important and we have to go deeper in the understanding and the learning from the theory…. So this is the first step.

The second very important step is that we have to be very good engineer and we have to be able to use those tools for practical practical cases which tackle the problems of the society.

What I advise for the students is not to use the finite element method like they would use an excel or word software, but to keep in mind that there is Theory behind, that there is analysis behind, that there is brain behind and that there is responsibility behind for designing and for sizing the projects or the products with the finite element method.

The last thing that I advise to my students is to go gradually for the knowledge.

Going gradually is very important because there are some things that we can teach but there are other things that we cannot teach but that we can learn by ourselves.

What I am doing usually is that I instil my students, I encourage them to learn by themselves because there are a lot of interesting things which are not written in the books, there are interesting things which cannot be found on the net, so we have to learn by ourselves and from the experience of some persons, engineers and senior engineers. We have to discuss with them, because there is a lot of experience which is not shared in the books. This is extremely important.

When we are discussing together we exchange a lot of knowledge which is not written or given inside my courses so we have to discuss to share this kind of important experience.

**Cyprien:**

This is something that I appreciate it a lot from your teachings. Most of professors were presenting the equations to us and then telling us: ‘this is the results’. But in your courses, you presented the problem then you asked us to solve me this problem and then you were waiting (until we found a solution). Some of the students in the class may have felt « This is strange, why is he doing like that? ». What I understood then is when we really try to solve those problems by ourselves, we were getting much closer to understanding how things work and why those equations are actually useful.

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

At the beginning, you said that you had the passion, and this is very very important, because for me there are two things that are very important: the brain and its practical use for the society. I am not giving commercial tools to my students who they can use then one time, I am giving a method, a system to think, to design, to understand, to compare, to criticise, because in the future they will face other problems. If those problems are not inside that box, they need to to have a method to resolve a new problem. This is the main method of pedagogy that I used in order to develop real skills. (Considering problems systematically) is a soft skill or generic skill which is very important to become practical for the society.

**Cyprien:**

Actually I say that often on the blog: I saw a lot engineers who think that FEA software are like a word software, you just push a few buttons and you get something.

So I always tell them that they should consider FEA software as a system, understand the different parts, how they link together and how you can improve (this system) to get the results you want so it matches the reality and what you see in a practical point of view. So, not seing it as something that does all the work for you and you don’t have to think about, but consider it as something that can be changed and improved in itself.

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

I agree totally with you because this is very very important to keep in mind the common sense is very important. The knowledge of several disciplines also helps… Some problems are not resolved in mechanics but they are resolved in acoustics. This is very important. If you have a multi-disciplinary knowledge and culture, you can be more efficient solving mechanical problems, because it has been done in acoustics or it has been done in chemical.

It is very important to use (this multi-disciplinary knowledge).

If you use the only the box with the tools you are given inside your commercial software, it makes not much sense. You need to give some meaning to what you are doing.

I usually say to my students: If your program is not running and you have a fatal error, this is very good and you are very lucky. It gaves you the opportunity to think about what is the problem and to resolve it.

If the program is running and it gives a result, a lot of students are happy to have the result but it is the opposite situation. You are not sure if the computer gave you the right results.

You have to be very very (careful) and pay more attention about the computer’s results because there is a responsibility and an analysis is very important. Pay attention and when you have problems and your program is not running, this is a good thing for you because you will be sure and it will make you think deeper about the problem. This is very interesting.

**Cyprien:**

I like very much those words you said: when you have never message you should be so lucky to have it because it gives you an indication about your problem. If you have an indication about the problem then you know how to solve it.

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

Exactly

**Cyprien: **

This is all about engineering. We, as engineers have to understand the problem and make it so clear that we know immediately how to solve it.

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

I am sure that if the problem is easy then it is not interesting for me. If the problem is very difficult, it gives me some challenge to build a new strategy, to think about the whole system, to learn about what is happening in the nature.

What is happening in the nature is very important. I say always to my students that they have to learn what is happening for example in fractal. There are results and they seem very disordinated, but in fact with some kind of good look, you think about it, you can resolve and you can have some conclusions. Your eyes must look to the problems from a lot of directions and this is very very important because we have to think and to re-think and to re-think again because it is very important to do it and to be sure.

linked article: Why is the job of the FEA engineer so challenging?

**Cyprien:**

It’s like looking at the tree and looking at the forest. When you look at the bigger picture, you see some kind of scheme, of strategy or system that you didn’t realised before.

**Zoubeir:**

Sure, for sure.

**Cyprien:**

My last question is:

**Q3: What kind of subjects are you working on right now?**

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

Now I am working on 2 subjects which are important for me.

Energy: materials, buildings, nuclear wastes storage. This is usually linked to the energy. Those are real problems that we will face more and more in the future for energy. The usage for society: Energy in the buildings, how to re-use wastes, linked to energy.

…And environmental problems: How to build the strategy to reduce (environmental problems).

If we want to live in a world cleaner in the next century, most of the problems will be based on energy and environment, so all what I am doing on the materials, on the structures, on the tunnels, on the storage wastes, on the buildings are usually linked to these fields which are very important as I indicated.

I advise usually to my students not to stay only a user of the software, but I encourage them to innovate and create their own elements for exemple, their new methods of resolution, more rapid, more efficient. This is very important. This can be done only by spreading the knowledge everywhere.

**Cyprien:**

That’s fascinating and I still didn’t reach this level. I wish I’ll be able to look at the algorithms and to say what is wrong and what I can improve one day.

That’s extremely challenging and interesting to think that we have this power to make the world better using technology and having this global understanding of the different technologies and the different industries to make finally everything converge and solve some of the biggest problems we have right now. Energy, clean air, etc… all those sort of problems which have no solution right now but in the future it doesn’t mean that engineers won’t find a solution in a few years and when they do, it will change everything.

Thank you so much for today interview.

**Pr. Zoubeir Lafhaj:**

Thank you so much Cyprien. I am glad having met you again today and I hope I can hire you because you became more expert than me.

Ok, that’s all for today…

I hope that you learned a lot from it!

But don’t forget…as Zoubeir tells it: **True learning comes from applying practically what you learn in a meaningful way for the society!**

**Any comment? Something to add? Please write a comment, I’d LOVE to hear from you and what you learned from this video!**

–Cyprien “Teaching FEA practical for society” Rusu

Swapnil says

Hi Cyprien,

Thanks for this feast! It was one of the engaging and interesting interview I have ever witnessed! When two greats talk, the third person bound to benefit from the discussion. For me following are key takeaways from the interview:

1. Don’t be slave to the software. Understand the results and Devise a strategy to solve the problem better than previous attempt.

2. Fatal error: feel lucky, take it as opportunity to learn/understand more.

3. Be through with the brain behind the software

4. Build knowledge in different disciplines to envision the real problem which will help you to find the solution better way

5. Gather courage to solve the problems faced by humankind.

6. Keenly observe the nature…you will get insight to solve many problem in our day to day life.

Thanks again for insightful interview..Hope to listen many more in the future.

Best Regards,

Swapnil