Research Associate, Cambridge University - United Kingdom
- Bachelor of Engineering, Mechanical with Honours
- Mechanical Engineering
- The University of Waikato School Leaver Scholarship
Visits to automotive manufacturing sites McLaren Formula 1, Volkswagen and Bentley are a regular occurence for Leon Henderson at the moment. It's all part of the job for the mechanical engineering graduate who works as a research associate at Cambridge University in the UK.
Leon graduated from the University of Waikato with a Bachelor of Engineering, Mechanical with Honours in 2009. He later moved to the UK to begin his PhD at Cambridge, finishing it in October 2013.
Safer braking for HGVs
Since 2013 Leon has been a research associate at Cambridge, working in an automotive engineering capacity on a project funded by Volvo Trucks.
The project involves the development of a new braking system that takes a fifth of the stopping distance off an HGV (heavy goods vehicle), enabling better driving control. Each wheel has a computer calculating how slippery the road is and how fast the vehicle is going, and adjusts the brakes accordingly.
The BBC recently ran a story on the project, and Leon has been named as a co-author on the successful patent application describing the pneumatic valve used in the truck's braking system.
Leon says the opportunities presented to him after his time at Waikato have made the move to the UK worthwhile.
"Alongside presenting my research to Volvo Trucks, I've also worked at vehicle testing facilities where prototype vehicles from companies such as Aston Martin, Jaguar and Bentley are tested. I've also visited some pretty cool automotive facilities - like McLaren Formula 1's research and development base, and production lines belonging to Volkswagen, Bentley and Hyundai."
Skills gained at Waikato
Leon says his undergraduate study at Waikato prepared him well for the challenges of a PhD. "My final year of research and design projects, along with the work placements arranged by Waikato, gave me a really good foundation of knowledge for my PhD.
"It also gave me a good combination of theoretical knowledge and hands-on engineering experience. The industry experience I gained was extremely helpful when it came to collaborating with industrial sponsors - which I've done a lot of here at Cambridge," he says.
Leon was inspired to study engineering after a visit to a University of Waikato Open Day and Science Summer School.
At the time, the engineering degree at Waikato was quite new. The facilities were nice and modern and the lecturers were engaging. I was also offered a couple a couple of scholarships to attend - the Tearaway Scholarship (now School Leaver Scholarship) and a Bachelor of Engineering Fees Scholarship, which made it more attractive."
He has good memories from Waikato, from the class work he completed to the mentoring and support he received from his lecturers.
"Professor Ilanko Ilanko was one of my biggest mentors throughout my studies. He always made the time to help me and was genuinely interested in my results. He also encouraged me to further my academic study and apply for PhD funding."
Leon has thrived overseas - travelling and backpacking around the world, joining a rowing team at Cambridge and completing a marathon in Poland.
His next step looks like it will be a move to New Zealand.
"I'm looking for an industry position in New Zealand where I can use some of the automotive engineering skills I've gained in Europe. Failing that, there are also possible job opportunities for me in Sweden with Volvo."