0 In Aerospace Engineering

Women In Aerospace Symposium

The participants and volunteers of the Women in Aerospace Symposium. Can you find me 😉 Photo via CU Engineering

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Women In Aerospace Symposium, a conference dedicated to women going into academia in Aerospace Engineering. As I just finished my first year of grad school, I am far from making this choice, but getting to sit in on the presentations done by all these amazing women was such a treat. I thought I’d use this opportunity to share some of the women’s research and their insights!

Shibani Bhatt, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

First Up,  Shibani Bhatt: PhD Candidate, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

What is your research topic?
When an object is moving in a stationary fluid or vise-versa, a thin layer of fluid called turbulent boundary layer is generated around the object. These flow fields are encountered in everyday instances, such as wind blowing over the earth’s surface, airflow over an automobile, blood flow in arteries, ships moving in water, airplanes/birds/insects in flight, etc. The primary consequence of the turbulent boundary layer is the wall shear stress it imposes on the solid boundary which, on a moving object such as an airplane, is a significant portion of the drag. In aviation, the most compelling reason to control turbulence is the improvement of aerodynamic efficiency through the reduction of drag. With this as a long-term goal, I plan to control turbulent boundary layers in a new manner that draws from recent advances in the understanding of wall turbulence.

Shibani in her wind tunnel lab

Shibani in her machine shop

Why did you become an aerospace engineer?
Ever since I was a kid, I was interested in learning how things flew. My curiosity towards flying objects began when I became a para-glider pilot at the age of 11. This curiosity led me to pursue a career in aerospace engineering.

What advice do you have for girls thinking about pursuing STEM?
For pursuing a STEM career, I would advise to practice math and be thorough with both math and physics. I cannot emphasize enough how much having a strong mathematical base helps you. You don’t have to be gifted to be good at math. All it takes is some practice.


Karen Dowling, Stanford University

Next up,  Karen Dowling: PhD Candidate, Stanford University

What is your research topic?
I’m an electrical engineer in an astronautics lab, researching how to make computer chips operate in the harsh world of outer space. Currently NASA’s space equipment requires heavy aluminum shielding to protect electronics from radiation. In my PhD, we’re replacing the silicon in electronic sensors with gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC); these can survive radiation longer and work in a large temperature range. They’re light and thus will save millions of dollars in launching satellites and space missions.  I’m also studying fundamentally how these electronics operate in cold environments.

Ice Electronics from Karen’s Lab

Why did you become an aerospace engineer?
I’m actually an electrical engineer, and I chose this field because when I started college it was very mysterious, and I wanted to understand the mystery! I later decided to work in aerospace because I liked the challenges with extreme environments and how I can use my electrical engineering knowledge to further this field as well.

What advice do you have for girls thinking about pursuing STEM?
You should totally go for it!  Work hard, ask questions, and try new things!  I was the only girl in my advanced math class in middle school, but I didn’t let that hold me back from learning the material and asking my questions to understand how it works!  you can do it too!

Yibin Zhang, Princeton University

And now, Yibin Zhang: PhD Candidate, Princeton University

What is your research topic?
My research tackles fundamental issues that arise in supersonic transport, or traveling faster than the speed of sound. One of these problems is friction drag: to break the sound barrier and sustain travel at those speeds, an aircraft must overcome proportionally higher drag forces and expend much more fuel than our modern commercial vessels. We currently do not have high-fidelity models for this friction drag under test conditions, or even an industrially-accepted method for measuring it accurately. My research applies a non-intrusive laser diagnostic method to this problem.

Femtosecond laser tagging in controlled gas mixtures

Why did you become an aerospace engineer?
I meandered through different topics under the wide umbrella of “mechanical engineering” before arriving at a great opportunity to perform research in this topic area. My work balances fascinating fundamental sciences with a very relevant and important application.

What advice do you have for girls thinking about pursuing STEM?
There are a lot of programs out there for women in STEM; if you’re surrounded by male colleagues, you may not be aware that they exist. When you encounter stereotypes and biases, don’t be quick to get offended, but do say something. The perpetrator may simply not have had access to the information that you have, and you can set a positive example while correcting a misconception.


Elaine Petro O’Hallohan, University of Maryland

Last but not least, Elaine Petro O’Halloran: PhD Candidate, University of Maryland

Contact:  epetro@terpmail.umd.edu

What is your research topic?
I am researching a plasma thruster for spacecraft propulsion that uses water as a propellant. Plasma thrusters are the analogue in space to electric vehicles on Earth; that is they are much more fuel efficient than traditional rockets. We want to design a system that uses water because it is all over the solar system and would allow us to refuel in space! (The picture below shows a water-plasma thruster at Saturn’s moon Enceladus which has a water-ice surface and geysers that erupt from a subsurface liquid water ocean.)

A water-plasma thruster at Saturn’s moon Enceladus via Elaine

Why did you become an aerospace engineer? 
I became an aerospace engineer because I think exploring space is incredibly cool and interesting so I wanted to be a part of that.

What advice do you have for girls thinking about pursuing STEM? 
Do it! You’ll never regret having a STEM degree. You can do anything with it and it will take you places you never dreamed of. Also, going into STEM doesn’t mean giving up art… the best engineers and scientists I know are also amazing painters, writers, dancers, and cooks!


Thanks so much to all the women who shared their work at the symposium but a special thanks to those who shared that research and words to live by with us!

The participants and volunteers of the Women in Aerospace Symposium via CU Engineering

Also a reminder, next week I will be at the NASA social, so don’t forget to send in your questions/follow along on social media!

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