At TUMCREATE, as we prepare to conclude our research in Phase Two – Towards the Ultimate Public Transport System, we would like to highlight our researchers who continue to make significant contributions to the programme. Through our interview series, People behind the Science, we talk to our researchers to discover more about them and their stories.
We talk to Dr Tobias Massier, Principal Investigator of the team Electrification Suite and Test Lab (ESTL).
Moving to a faraway country was never a thought that has crossed Tobias’ mind. He has always been very connected to home and his Bavarian culture, which he made sure to stress that it was more than just beer, sausages and pretzels! He later developed an interest in Scandinavia and studied both the Swedish and Norwegian language, and even considered moving there to escape the summer in Germany. Ironically, he ended up in Singapore, where it's humid for most of the year, though the air-conditioned buildings made up for it since they are rare in Germany. Being in Singapore for almost eight years now, he can hardly imagine living in another place again. Indeed, home is where the heart is.
Q: Tell us about yourself and what you do…
I have been with TUMCREATE as a principal investigator since January 2013, leading the ESTL team which was known as RP 8 – Energy Management team back then. We are working on concepts for electrifying road transport in Singapore and integrating it into Singapore’s power system. My duties comprise a broad range of tasks from doing research, to initiating new collaborations and acquiring funding, to administrative tasks for the team. I am also involved in external research projects.
Q: What made you come to Singapore, and how has it been like living here?
I would say I was in the right place at the right time. In 2012, TUMCREATE was looking for a principal investigator for the newly formed RP 8 team. I had a few doubts in the beginning but I knew that such opportunity would not knock twice so I decided to give it a go, while not planning to stay for more than two to three years. True enough, I was not well prepared at all and the first few months were quite tough to be honest. Eventually, things started to fall in place, and I started to meet the right people, including my wife whom I have two lovely little cherubs with today!
Q: Who or what inspired you to be in your field of research?
I’ve always been interested in numbers, logical thinking, mathematics and electricity. Funny story, I’ve damaged quite a few of my father’s consumer electronic devices and erased some of his audio and video tape recordings when I was young. My parents eventually bought me an electric model railway just to draw my attention away to something else.
It fascinates me when completely new things emerge and have the potential to change our lives, or when inventions that were presumed to have lost their potential and value suddenly see a resurrection. For instance, the first electric car was invented almost 150 years ago but it was only until recently when people began to re-consider the invention as a promising alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles.
Q: What are some of the challenges for you in your field of research?
I guess, for most researchers, the challenges are similar. To me, it is important that the research has an impact outside academia. The pressure to publish high-quality papers and receive citations is high, but it is also important that your findings are considered by decision-makers or get to be developed and implemented. That said, I am happy that a method I developed in my PhD thesis was implemented by a leading electronic design software company. Also, ESTL is currently involved in some projects that have the potential to make valuable contributions to Singapore, which is really exciting!
Q: Tell us about your work and journey in TUMCREATE…
When I started in 2013, it was the first time for me to lead a team. My team was very small with just three research associates and one of them was on a short-term stay. All of them had already been assigned their research topics, so there was little room for me to incorporate my own ideas. Despite being a small team, it was quite a challenge to manage. However, over the years, I became more confident and managed to acquire additional funding. I initiated additional research topics such as charging strategies for electric vehicles, including battery ageing, renewable energy supply options from other Southeast Asian countries and balancing fluctuations of solar power with the help of airconditioned buildings or the batteries of electric vehicles. Eventually, the team grew to more than ten people and it is progressing really well now.
Today, ESTL’s work comprises the electrification of public buses in Singapore, new control strategies for electric grids, and integration of renewable energies, smart devices, including batteries, and IoT models. I also provide guidance to my team particularly on writing research proposals and publications and approaching other institutions for potential collaborations.
Q: What are some of your plans in the future?
I don’t think I would be moving away as Singapore is a convenient and great place to raise children. Workwise, I want to continue to work with my team as they are all highly talented researchers and we are involved in great projects right now. With TUMCREATE Phase 2 ending in the near future, I could see myself in a follow-up project that goes in a similar direction as to what we are doing.
(We know how busy a scientist can be, what will they do if they have an extra hour to spend?)
Q: If you have one extra hour of free time a day, how would you use it?
Sleep. I can’t say that I am getting enough of it at the time being!
No, seriously, I would split the hour up so I could have 30 extra minutes just for myself and the other for my family. For myself, I would go for a swim or read something interesting in the evening, which I don’t always get to do at the moment. I would then use the other 30 minutes to spend more time with my family. Our children are growing up so fast and I want to be there with them with every opportunity I’ve got.
We would like to thank Tobias for taking some time out of his busy schedule for this interview. It’s definitely not easy being a scientist, much more to lead a team of more than ten researchers!