Dr Steven Schmied has spent the past 10 years chasing an endless wave. It sounds more like the soundtrack to a surfer’s summer than a PhD topic, but for this accomplished researcher it was definitely the latter.

“I discussed a novel idea to produce continuous breaking waves whereby a pressure source, in this case a highly modified ship’s hull called a wavedozer, is rotated within a circular wave pool,” Dr Schmied said.

“The proposed pool will be capable of creating waves suitable for beginner to expert surfers and could even help surfing to become an Olympic sport by providing guaranteed quality waves. The concept is that the inner ring has a sloping floor, or beach, to induce wave breaking from the wake of the pressure source.

“In order to refine the technique, research was conducted to better understand the mechanics of surfable waves generated by moving pressure sources in restricted water.”

The project, with industry partner Liquid Time Pty Ltd (trading as Webber Wave Pools), was a conjoint effort between the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania and Delft University of Technology, Netherlands (TU Delft).

Dr Steven Schmied in the test basin.

Dr Steven Schmied in the test basin.

It resulted in Dr Schmied being awarded two PhDs in naval architecture last year – one from AMC and the other from TU Delft – rounding out an impressive list of academic qualifications in the fields of aerospace engineering, computer engineering and business administration.

Fittingly, the project’s origins can be traced back to a surfing holiday at Lord Howe Island when Dr Schmied met surfboard manufacturer Greg Webber and they talked about the concept of a continuous wave pool.

Dr Schmied joined Liquid Time as chief engineer and started overseeing initial testing at TU Delft before securing academic supervision for his doctorate.

Since 2008, he has been working with academic supervisors and students from both AMC and TU Delft to conduct computational and physical model experiments on the circular wave pool design. While there are other wave pool designs on the market, the donut-shaped structure is a world-first. The design also works in straight or oval shaped pools.

Dr Schmied developed a method of scoring wave shape from a surfer’s perspective which proved valuable in focusing the research effort. At the end of the test series, high-quality continuous breaking waves with the desired plunging shape that surfers prize were able to be generated. However, the wave quality was shown to be extremely sensitive to any changes in the design parameters.

“The immediate benefits of this scientific investigation will be realised by the industry partner by engineering the results into the Webber Wave Pool. The longer term benefits will be developed through more fundamental investigations of breaking waves,” Dr Schmied said.

Liquid Time plans to continue the research program at AMC to help commercialise the pool designs, including modelling each individual pool before it is constructed. Through the wave pool project, AMC is looking forward to further opportunities to establish conjoint arrangements and student exchanges with other universities.

To this end, Dr Schmied will supervise the fourth year, masters and doctorate candidates, starting this month (February 2015) with University of Twente (Netherlands) master intern Sietse van der Linden.