Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, Hassan Assaf was the kid “who opened things up and looked inside,” he says. When that curiosity evolved into an interest in designing new products, he studied Italian intensely for eight months before enrolling at the Polytechnic of Turin in Italy, where he earned a BS in mechanical engineering and an MS in mechatronic engineering. (Assaf is fluent in Arabic, English and Italian). While working on his master’s thesis in 2018, he came to Purdue as a visiting scholar under the guidance of Andrea Vacca, professor of agricultural and biological engineering (ABE) and mechanical engineering. The Maha Fluid Power Research Center that Vacca leads at Purdue is the largest academic hydraulics lab in the U.S. Assaf’s interest in fluid power technology and access to such resources influenced his return to Purdue for doctoral study: “I got to know the lab and could do my own research on different problems and challenges that I could learn from,” he says. When Vacca offered him a doctoral-level position in the lab, Assaf returned to Purdue in August 2019.
In the first two years of his program, Assaf designed novel hydraulic trainers that integrate advanced electro-hydraulic components, data acquisition systems and visual aids. These trainers are now in use at the Fluid Power and Motion Control Lab of the new ABE building, and are supporting graduate and undergraduate engineering classes to expose students to advanced fluid power concepts through hands-on experiences. Assaf also contributed to the increased demand for online education by developing a virtual reality application to replicate the physical trainers as digital twin for remote lab experiences. In June 2021 he illustrated the trainers he developed at Purdue to 14 other U.S. universities with fluid power labs. Assaf is currently designing an electrohydraulic battery-powered system to replace the internal combustion engine in a hydraulic system — part of a broader effort to address global warming by reducing CO2
emissions. “I can design the electric motor, and cylinders for an integrated system,” he explains. “The goal is to fabricate a working prototype.”
His advisor “makes it easy to learn,” Assaf says. “He makes sure that I’m making progress. If I have a problem, he will sit down with me and give me ideas.” Assaf presented his work on the trainers at an international conference on fluid power hosted from Sweden in June 2021. Seminars at the Maha lab strengthened both his preparation and his confidence, he says. Working on projects with industry partners — Parker-Hannifin on the hydraulic trainers and Bosch Rexroth on the new system — has given him valuable insight into industry, he adds. He also enjoyed being a teaching assistant for the fluid power class (ABE435) in fall 2021.
After completing his PhD in another 18 months or so, Assaf would like to work in industry for a few years to balance the time he has spent in university settings. “I want to know how the industry works,” he explains, “then maybe go back home and join academia.” In his spare time he relaxes by swimming, watching movies and walking the Purdue campus.