An Interview: Prof. Franz Newland

What is your educational background?

I went to school in California until senior kindergarten, as well as spent 6 months going to school in Bahamas. However, most of my education I obtained in the UK. I have received a degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering in South Hampton, then a PhD in Tracking Clouds and Satellite Images using Artificial Intelligence. I did my PostDoc in Toulouse in Orbit Determination of Space Debris near the Geostationary Belt Using Ground Based telescope.

Please tell us about your first few years at York.

The first 1.5 years have been exciting, as the students are very enthusiastic here. I would also call it refreshing—York is a nice place to question long held assumptions. In the industry, you often have to stick to the traditional path and old ways of doing things. However, in academia, I have an opportunity to help the next generation to follow the new path, as well as challenge the stereotypes that I wasn’t able to challenge in the industry.

What is your most memorable project?

On of them is being able to work on the Automatic Transfer Vehicle (ATV) European Resupply Vessel for the International Space Station (ISS). It is a bus-sized spacecraft carrying the equipment for the use of ISS, which flies to the station and autonomously does rendez-vous and docking to it. It is a truly international project, involving Europeans, Americans, and Russians.

Another memorable project is my first CubeSat in Canada. It’s fascinating how in just 7.5 months you can go from a blank sheet of paper to a fully functional satellite.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the Capstone course. It is a lot of fun seeing the variety of engineering problems that the students are tackling. If a couple of them succeed, they will actually solve some problems I’ve been running into for awhile.

What do you like/dislike about York the most?

Like: The diversity—York is not as diverse as it could be, but definitely more diverse than most of the other institutions. However, it is still lacking the gender diversity in Engineering. In Toulouse, there was a much higher percentage of women in one of  the Operations Centers, but  long strives in providing a welcoming environment. Lassonde, on opposite, produces a comfortable and open environment, even though we still need to work on breaking the hidden barriers.

Dislike: Not having enough time – I would love to find more time to be able to do more for students.

Favorite building at York? I like the new Bergeron building. I studied clouds in my PhD and spent hours looking at sequences of cloud images, so I find Bergeron’s cloud metaphor lovely. In addition, I do like Petrie, because it’s my home.

What’s your pet peeve? Spelling and grammar.

Favorite quote? The probability of success is difficult to estimate, but if we never search, the chance of success is zero.” by Philip Morrison and Guiseppe Cocconi

Favorite color?  Blue, because it reminds me of clouds.

Favorite food?  Cassoulet – it’s hot bean and duck stew popular in Southern France. It warms you up during the winter!

Favorite movie? “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, because Willie Wonka is one of the few literary engineers who  inspire people.

What do you do in your free time? I have a 7 year old at home, so I spend most of my time with him. Otherwise, I play music: I play flute and some piano.

If you could be any age, which age would you choose and why? I would want to be a kid again. I see every day how my son explores the world, and it would be wonderful to see it through those eyes again.

Interesting fact about yourself? I used to have a Californian accent until I was 11.


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