The National Science Foundation’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF) has been awarded to Leanne Su, Angela Kimber, LoriAnn Groo, and Iman Javaheri. The NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) has been awarded to Christopher Sercel and LoriAnn Groo. Both fellowships are accompanied by a training grant for each Master’s or doctoral student. Congratulations to our current and future students on these achievements!
Leanne Su, a senior at the University of Washington in Seattle, graduates this spring with a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. Since her freshman year, she has been interested in plasma physics and electric propulsion. As a result, she has held two internships: one in plasma research and one in electric propulsion project engineering. At the University of Washington, she has worked in Dr. Uri Shumlak’s Fusion Z-Pinch Experiment (FuZE) lab for nearly three years. The goal of FuZE is to use a sheared velocity profile to better confine a Z-pinch plasma at fusion conditions, with eventual applications in both fusion power and in-space propulsion. As an undergraduate research assistant, Su has primarily focused on building, calibrating, and conducting velocity research with the magnetic field probes in the machine.
Su’s NSF GRF proposal expands upon her current analysis of the velocity profile utilized in FuZE. The goals outlined in her proposal include building a comprehensive spatiotemporal representation of the plasma in the acceleration region of the machine, exploring what operating parameters affect the performance of the plasma, comparing the experimental performance of the plasma to theoretical models, and characterizing FuZE as a propulsive device for a fusion-powered rocket.
As an incoming Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, Su will be working in the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory (PEPL) under the advisement of Aerospace Engineering Professor Benjamin Jorns. Her project is focused on optimizing and analyzing channel interactions in the X3 thruster, a 100-kW nested Hall thruster with the potential capability of propelling humankind to Mars.
Angela Kimber received her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Washington, where she worked in several labs focusing on micropropulsion, electric propulsion, and nanofabrication. These three interests fed into a diverse experience that provided Kimber with a strong foundation for her Ph.D. research on electrospray thrusters, which she has conducted in her first year in PEPL under the advisement of Dr. Benjamin Jorns.
Kimber’s NSF GRF proposal specifically highlights her current research goals to utilize novel materials and geometries to redesign electrospray arrays for large-scale propulsion applications. This goal is achieved through numerical simulations and experimental validation of prototypes. Kimber reflects, “I love the interdisciplinary role my research requires and it is a field that is still under a lot of development, so it is very exciting to work in! I’m honored to be named an NSF fellow and I greatly look forward to putting more time into my work after this year.”
Christopher Sercel received his Bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of California at Santa Barbara in June of 2017. He has had internships in the Electric Propulsion group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and at Motiv Space Systems, a space robotics company that designs and builds the main robotic arm for the Mars2020 project. After graduating from UCSB, Sercel began his full-time career at JPL, working as a mechanical engineer on the Europa Lander project. His work focuses on building a new cryogenic vacuum testbed to simulate the environment on Europa for sample acquisition development. Sercel reflects, “While I’m having a great time [at JPL], I knew that I wanted to keep going with my education, so I applied to Aerospace Engineering grad programs with great electric propulsion groups, and U-M seemed like a great fit.”
Sercel’s NSTRF-winning research proposal revolves around laser-sustained plasma propulsion. He explains, “when you’re designing a thruster, the more energy the propellant has (i.e. the hotter it is) the better. But for types of thrusters that are designed to give high thrust levels, you end up transferring a lot of that heat into the walls of your device. You run into a temperature limit where if you go any hotter, you melt the throat on your thruster.” In order to embattle these material limitations, Sercel has proposed using optics to concentrate the heat within thruster, allowing a layer of cool fluid to protect the thruster’s walls.
As an Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. student, Sercel will be researching in PEPL under the advisement of Dr. Benjamin Jorns. On his research interests, Sercel explains:
“I’m very passionate about developing new concepts for electric propulsion. I want to come up with new and exciting ways to propel spacecraft, figure out why and how they work, and test them to learn more about what’s really happening inside. I truly believe that expanding humanity’s reach into space is the most important work that I can do, and if you want to explore space, you need the ‘oomf’ to get where you’re going. I’m looking forward to working under Ben Jorns at PEPL starting in the fall.”
LoriAnne Groo received her dual Bachelor’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Ocean Engineering at Virginia Tech. Now in her second year of Ph.D. studies in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, Groo researches under the advisement of Aerospace Engineering Chair Daniel Inman and Aerospace Engineering Professor Henry Sodano in the Adaptive Intelligent Multifunctional Structures Lab (AIMS) and in the Aerospace Materials Lab, respectively.
Her research focuses on the use of piezoelectric materials, which outputs a voltage when pressure is applied and vice versa, to detect damage in fiber-reinforced composite materials. Her award-winning proposal discusses the integration of zinc-oxide nanowires directly into composites, simultaneously increasing the strength of composite material and allowing the material to self-sense damage. In addition to sensing the location and severity of damage sustained, Groo’s research has the potential to make piezoelectric composite materials capable of harvesting energy that results from impact.
Iman Javaheri received his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with highest distinction from the University of Utah in May 2017. He is currently first-year Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, researching in the Multi-Scale Structural Simulations Laboratory (MSSL) under the advisement of Aerospace Engineering Professor Veera Sundararaghavan. His current research focuses on the development of computational tools to synthetically generate large-scale, three-dimensional microstructures based on experimental imaging.
Javaheri has received the NSF GRF for future research in microstructural mapping. He has proposed to “develop an algorithm to generate validated three-dimensional microstructural maps of materials by coupling Markov Random Fields (MRFs) with robotic experimental sampling.” The goal of the proposed research is “to significantly reduce the time and budget needed to characterize full microstructural maps of materials at engineering component-scales,” ultimately contributing to the “development of safer and more energy-efficient air and space vehicles.”