Though he is the one being interviewed, Iskender Gökalp, the 53 year-old director of the Combustion and Reactive Systems Laboratory (LCSR)1 in Orléans, turns the tables: “Tell me about yourself,” he asks the interviewer. And this first sentence provides a lot of insight into the man: curious, humble, attentive–yet determined. When he arrived from Istanbul–thirty years ago–he was quick to impose both his style and his research interests on a topic that was undergoing a major revolution at the time: the analysis of combustion in turbulent flows. Gökalp's French adventure began in 1975 at the Aerothermodynamics Laboratory in Meudon,2 where he prepared a doctoral thesis in collaboration with the Paris-based General Chemistry Laboratory.3 Before defending his thesis in 1981, Gökalp also worked as a teaching assistant in a training and research unit in mechanics.
For this dedicated scientist, a dream came true in 1983 when he was hired as a junior researcher at LCSR. “For me, the position at CNRS meant that I had finally achieved independence and it gave me the opportunity to build ambitious research programs.” Gökalp's field of study was going through a period of enormous change. “In the early 1970s, researchers were simply improving combustion efficiency in various energy systems,” he explains. “Since then, we have come to realize that fossil resources are neither eternal nor totally harmless to the environment. The laboratory evolved under these new constraints and began to take a closer look at the 'sustainable development' aspects in both combustion and reactive systems.” And this work is vital for industry. The objective is to improve combustion processes (in everything from car engines to aerospace propulsion systems and gas turbines) using low-fuel mixtures to reduce both carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. But researchers are also striving to find new energy sources by developing alternative fuels and biofuels such as rapeseed oil, biomass gasification products, or gases recovered from industrial waste.4 Gökalp is already looking further ahead with a European project he has named Essperans,5 intended to diversify energy sources through solar power. “It's quite a simple idea: to install photovoltaic platforms in sunny regions that will convert solar energy into electricity and, in the long term, put them in orbit around the Earth.” Science fiction? Not for Gökalp, who swears by interdisciplinarity. From the start of his career, this research scientist has handpicked a team with extensive expertise, established numerous partnerships, and nurtured a passionate interest in just about everything.6 “Basic research has left its ivory tower,” he exults, and “unforeseen applications always crop up.” Basic research also occasionally links both his countries in the form of joint projects between the universities of
1. Laboratoire de combustion et systèmes réactifs (CNRS lab).
2. Laboratoire d'aérothermique (CNRS lab).
3. Laboratoire de chimie générale (Université Paris-VI).
4. The Alternative Fuels for Industrial Gas Turbines programs (AFTUR), coordinated by LCSR in Orléans, includes 22 academic and industrial partners.
5. Essperans stands for Energy, Space, Solar Power, Environment: Research Actions for a New Society.
6. Gökalp is also the Director of the EPEE Federation (European Partnership for Energy and the Environment) which includes several research units; an Official Representative of the CNRT “Propulsion of the Future” and President of the Federation of European Sections of the Combustion Institute.
7. CNRS' Turkish equivalent. Gökalp is also a member of the Tubitak Scientific Council.