Niels Holm Krarup: Number cruncher and civil engineer with a passion for building bridges

Man standing in front of stairs. Niels Asgari (NHK)

Niels dreams of building bridges. He has held a talk on bridge cable vibrations in front of large numbers of industry experts at a conference in Rome. As a NIRAS engineer, Niels gets to solve the complex calculations needed to create future buildings and structures.

Niels is happiest when part of a team. During his studies, he founded and led a football club, Bygningsteknisk Fodboldforening, for engineering students in Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark. When not playing football, he can usually be found with a pencil in one hand and a calculator in the other, immersed in a calculation. He is fascinated by how complicated calculations can help solve problems and be applied in practice. The satisfaction that comes when a calculation finally adds up after several hours of work is the reason why Niels chose to become a civil engineer. However, the road there wasn’t always straightforward. It took a year as a mechanical engineer and a term spent abroad on the US West Coast during his transition to civil engineering before Niels realised: He wants to be the one to make the calculations based on the major buildings and structures of the future. 

Since qualifying from Aarhus University School of Engineering in January 2017, Niels has been working at NIRAS’ Aarhus office as a structural engineer. On a day-to-day basis, his work includes performing the calculations intended to ensure that buildings and structures remain intact despite the impact of wind and other elements.

Presented academic article at a conference in Rome

As part of his dissertation, Niels wrote an academic article on the vibrations of bridge cables, which he presented to leading experts at the EURODYN conference in Rome in September 2017.

“I wrote the article in connection with my dissertation, which was about vibrations in bridge cables and how these can be reduced in order to increase bridge safety. My inspiration is Chinese professor Y.L. Xu. My dissertation was based on an article that he wrote, and the crazy thing is that he actually attended the conference. He has also written a book on the topic which is considered something of a Bible when it comes to the impact of wind on bridges,” says Niels.

What made you want to work for NIRAS?

During my degree I attended a jobs fair at the School of Engineering in Aarhus. There I spoke to a Head of Department from NIRAS, who is my colleague today. He told me what NIRAS does and what they look for when hiring new employees. What really appealed to me was that he stressed that it isn’t just professional competence that matters, but also the person who you are behind your qualifications. Generally, newly-qualified engineers have the same qualifications on paper, so personal characteristics can be a deciding factor when applying for job. I feel it’s very important to take this into account when choosing a workplace.

How would you describe the workplace community at NIRAS?

There is a strong focus on community and social aspects. The people who work here work as part of a team. This is one of the reasons why I applied to work at NIRAS. In the project that I’m currently working on, I’m lucky to work alongside two colleagues with many years’ experience who are highly competent when it comes to both theory and practice. I’ve benefited a lot from this, as they have been able to offer me qualified support and the opportunity to learn from them.

What is the biggest difference between being at university versus being in the labour market?

I actually think that there is a surprising amount of cross-over in terms of what I now do at work and what I did at university. I really like sinking my teeth into calculations, and I love the feeling of joy I get when something I have been working on after many hours of frustration, finally works out. That was what motivated me throughout my time as a student. So I’m really pleased that this is something that features in my work now too. The big difference is that the calculations that I perform today are actually used in real life. They relate to problems that need to be resolved before something can be built in practice. As a student, you’re only accountable to yourself, whereas in the labour market people expect what you do professionally to stand up. But it is encouraging to see that what I learned at university is actually applicable in practice.

What is the most interesting engineering project you can imagine?

I have always harboured a dream of building bridges. There is something unique and very fascinating about such a large and complex project. Bridges often become iconic. Just look at the Danish Great Belt Fixed Link or the Golden Gate Bridge. It isn’t just the engineering aspects of bridges that fascinate me, but the history behind them. Bridges have helped shape our societies in significant ways.