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From Shanghai to Sønderborg: International award winner wants to work with space technology

In connection with his graduation from SDU in Sønderborg, Patrick Haffmans received the BHJ award for his master's project with Danfoss Climate Solutions. With a German father, a Filipino mother and an upbringing in Shanghai, one would not think that it was written in the stars that he should take his master's degree in a Danish provincial town; but in fact, that was exactly what did.

By Sune Holst, , 7/9/2021

At this year's graduation at SDU in Sønderborg, Patrick Haffmans, a graduate from the master’s programme in Mechatronics, received the BHJ award for his master's project with Danfoss Climate Solutions. The prize was 25,000 kroner. And according to his contact person at Danfoss Climate Solutions, it was fully deserved that the award went to Patrick Haffmans.

"We are happy and proud that Patrick has received this award as a recognition for his innovative thinking, his high work ethic, and his ability to analyze complex systems with the aim of finding the appropriate solutions," said Roozbeh Izadi-Zamanabadi, who is a professor at Aalborg University and Lead Expert in Control Technology at Danfoss Climate Solutions.

Roozbeh Izadi-Zamanabadi goes on to say that in his master's project, Patrick Haffmans managed to modify and improve a complex supermarket system. Patrick Haffmans’ improved version will take the place of the old model in future projects.

“It has been a real pleasure working with Patrick. His punctuality, his ability to produce new and innovative ideas and explore them thoroughly has been impressive. In addition, his always positive attitude - even when faced with great challenges - has been incredibly appreciated,” says Professor Roozbeh Izadi-Zamanabadi.


The young engineer celebrated the award by taking his parents out to eat, but quite some time had passed beforehand where he himself had been told that he would receive the award but was not allowed to tell it to friends and family.

"I am incredibly proud to receive the award. And it was great to finally be able to share the joy with others, after I had had to keep it a secret for so long,” laughs Patrick Haffmans.

From Shanghai to Sønderborg

Patrick Haffmans grew up in Shanghai and has a German father and a Filipino mother. And with a degree in engineering from the prestigious University College London, he must be considered a true cosmopolitan. So how does a world citizen end up in Sønderborg?

"There are actually several reasons for this. I have always been fascinated by Denmark, which is known for having the happiest population in the world. In addition, I have a Danish girlfriend, so when we had to look for a master's degree, it was obvious to look at what was available in Denmark. When I read about the Mechatronics programme in Sønderborg, I was sure that was what I was going to study.”

In fact, Patrick Haffmans was so sure that the Mechatronics programme was the right one for him that he chose the programme even though his girlfriend was admitted to a university in the Netherlands. And he has not regretted it.

“I’ve had some amazing subjects like software engineering and control theory, which are valuable additions to my background in mechanics. At the same time, you have a fantastic learning environment where the classes are not that big and where you have a close relationship with your teacher. You don’t disappear in the crowd.”

Relaxed tone required getting used to

Precisely this close relationship with the teachers is something that Patrick Haffmans highlights as one of the most positive things about his education at SDU. But it was also something he had to get used to. It was a shock for him to go from the formal tone at University College London to the relaxed tone between teachers and students in Sønderborg.

"It actually took a lot of overcoming in the beginning to address a professor by first name. I had never tried that before, but the informal tone makes you more comfortable about asking for help,” laughs Patrick Haffmans.

Wants to use his degree for a job in aerospace

With a master's degree in Mechatronics, Patrick Haffmans will now explore the possibilities for a future within the aerospace industry. Even before podcasts were a common thing, he heard podcasts about space telescopes, and now he dreams of turning his passion into his work.

“This year alone, we have seen such great advances in space travel: Elon Musk and SpaceX have landed Starship rockets in an upright position, NASA's Perseverance rover has landed on Mars, just as China has landed a space probe on the red planet. These major steps indicate that aerospace is a large and important industry. I want to be a part of that. And I believe that Mechatronics has an important role to play in that context.”

Patrick Haffmans says that, for example, control theory is incredibly relevant for satellites and space rockets, so that they can navigate correctly.

"We see Elon Musk and SpaceX reusing their space rocket, but you can’t control such a landing manually with a joystick. It is impossible. It has to be so incredibly accurate and that's why you need to get the machine to do it by itself. It is a very, very big control challenge, so seeing it succeed is awesome.”

In order to find a possible job within the aerospace industry, Patrick Haffmans is in the process of establishing contact with SDU Galaxy, which is an interdisciplinary network that creates synergy through collaboration between the aerospace industry, research and education.

Editing was completed: 09.07.2021