Tadhg O'Donovan

Cup of Tea in hand, and ready to answer questions!



In school I did the Leaving Certificate (equivalent of A-Levels, for Ireland) before going to Trinity College Dublin to study Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and then for a PhD in Heat Transfer


BA BAI Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering; PhD in Heat Transfer

Work History:

Trinity College Dublin & Lufthansa Airmotive (Summer Placement)

Current Job:

Lecturer/Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering


Heriot-Watt University

Me and my work

Research and Teaching of the Science, Engineering and Application of Renewable Energy Systems

I have an amazingly varied job. When I’m not giving lectures, tutorial and laboratory demonstrations, I do a lot of research and consultancy for companies.

Teaching is fun – I try to demonstrate engineering principles through project work. My students build “speed” boats (although they don’t go that fast) to bring a cargo across the loch (“lake” to non-Scots) on campus; this way we learn about buoyancy and stability. It’s a very fun learning environment!

Research is a real joy – I am developing solar panel systems for domestic heating. As part of a collaboration with other universities, I are also developing a small renewable energy power plant to bring electricity to an off-grid community in India. I have an amazing team of postgraduate students and research associates who work really well together.

They make my job easy. We plan meetings, decide on a plan of action, review designs, build prototypes, experimentally test our designs and theories AND hopefully help companies and society.

My Typical Day

A real mix of lectures, design meetings, progress report meetings, site visits, data analysis…no two days are the same!

I have a lot of freedom in my job. Yes, I work to a schedule for lectures etc, but most of my week and during the summer months, I have the freedom to indulge my engineering interests. So no two days are the same…

I manage a research group who are working on a wide range of renewable energy projects, like:

  • Solar Panel Design for Domestic Heating
  • Thermal Stoage, use of the heat we heat we collect when we need it
  • Solar Powered Water Desalination
  • Concentrated Solar Power Plant Development (where we use mirrors and lenses to focus the sun to a very hot spot before we convert it to electricity)

I also have the opportunity to work with:

  • Surgeons and Physiologists to develop devices for blood flow measurement and muscle rehabilitation
  • Brewers and Distillers to integrate renewables into their processes
  • Electronics and Computing Companies to keep their electronic cool or look for ways to use the waste heat.

So day to day I do background research (lots of reading, lots of learning); I hold planning and design meeting; I allocate work packages (design, build, test, model etc) and I do a lot of that myself too…every day is different, because the projects keep changing, evolving; it’s very exciting to review progress!

What I'd do with the money

Solar Power Demos (and Podcasts)

Engineers are tactile learners, in fact the more senses we use when trying to learn, discover and understand, the better! We like to see, touch, hear, smell (well not always) and even taste (if it’s safe) engineering principles. It is the best way of communicating – the best way to understand how things work.

If I were to win the money, I’d develop some interactive demos. This might be of a small solar panel, or a Stirling Engine heat engine that converts heat to electricity, or a wind turbine…but I’d prefer to develop something from the interaction I’ll have with you through I’m an Engineer! Suggestions welcome.

To ensure maximum impact, I’d also like to make short (and interactive) podcasts of the demonstrations with hyperlinks to read more/see more/learn more.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, Inventive, Fun?

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Adele, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, although I have to admit to knowing every word of every song from “Frozen” (I have a 2 year old daughter)

What's your favourite food?

Pizza (and not the good kind – it’s gotta be Dominos)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Learning to Ski

What did you want to be after you left school?

Aircraft Pilot

Were you ever in trouble at school?

I was once very late for school because my bus had a puncture; was told me to “not let it happen again” – still not sure how they wanted me to prevent it in future – surely an engineering challenge there though (puncture proof types for busses :) )

What was your favourite subject at school?

Maths – I like figuring things out and solving problems

What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?

Build a research group to tackle renewable energy technology challenges

If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?

An Architect

Tell us a joke.

Success is 1% inspiration, 98% perspiration, and 2% attention to detail

Other stuff

Work photos:

myimage6 Most mornings start with a cup of tea – it’s also an excuse to play with my thermal imaging camera. This is a very useful toy, I mean important engineering tool! We actually use it quite a bit to detect heat losses in our solar thermal systems and to measure temperatures without interfering with the system. As you can see here, I also used it for my Ice-Bucket Challenge. It’s always nice to think creatively about demonstrations – so there is a YouTube video for this (, if you’d like to see my discomfort 🙂  myimage1 My department has an impressive workshop with lathes, milling machines, grinders, laser cutters (Yes – James Bond-esque) some multi-axis tools with and without CNC (Computer Numerical Control). myimage8 myimage3 Much of the solar energy research is done with coaborators in India; here are a few pictures of the outdoor test lab. myimage4 myimage5 Whereas back home in Scotland, we have some other challenges – snow! myimage7