Fast Aircraft — including spacecraft, are re-entering the atmosphere — as well as rockets beyond the speed of sound, along with a dangerous but dangerous velocity. Back on Earth, working to keep them safe, an aerospace engineering Ph.D. The student’s name is Tom Juliano.
In a Mach 6 wind tunnel operated by Purdue University, Juliano studies the airflow closest to the plane’s surface. Some are laminar, or quiet; Others, turbulent – and are those who intensify the heat the vehicle is subjected to. Juliano’s experiments show that when airflow changes from lamina to turbulent. If its predictions are too high, the aircraft will overtake with heavy thermal protection layers, disrupting its performance. If they are too low, it will burn. “It’s not trivial,” Juliano according to his research.
Actually. Safety and performance are paramount even for engineers working on civil aircraft and other less foreign vehicles. Wei Shay, head of the aerospace engineering department at the University of Michigan, explains, “It’s really a lot of designing. There’s no room for error.”
For students of aerospace engineering and its many satellites, including aerodynamics, propulsion, materials and avionics, there is no shortage of work. “Job prospects are great and growing,” says Christopher Hall, head of the aerospace and ocean engineering department at Virginia Tech. The Aerospace Industries Association, or AIA, says the industry is expanding. And Lockheed Martin may need to hire 95,000 engineers in the coming decade as baby boomers take a toll after retirement.
Also fuel demand is NASA’s plan to resume manned missions to the moon by 2020 and bear the burden of the commercial space industry. Companies such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic hope to send tourists into space, perhaps as early as 2010. Other companies are working on satellite launch and unmanned cargo service for the International Space Station.
For students with a bachelor’s degree, the sooner the payment is the larger it is. The annual starting salary of a master-degree holder will be $ 62,459; Those with a doctorate can expect to start at $ 73,814. “That’s because they are unique,” explains Jeremiah Gertler, AIA’s assistant vice president. Generally, it takes an engineer with a BS degree 10 years to actually become proficient, he says: “For advanced degree holders, the learning curve is shortened.” The demand for degrees is also gaining momentum. According to the American Society for Engineering Education, 1,056 master’s degrees in discipline were awarded in 2007, up from 44 percent since 2002. In the same period, the doctorate rose by 23 percent, to 259.
Flying high. Thomas Farris, head of Purdue’s School of Aeronautics, says the main motivation for the students is not the economic rewards, but to work in a field that fascinated them since childhood. “For the most part, our students become aerospace engineers because they are following their dreams.” Consider 28-year-old Erin Farber, a Michigan student who hopes to complete her doctorate this year or next. Growing up in Toronto, she was set to become an astronaut. He put that notion aside when he realized that training was too short a time for family life. But Farber is thrilled to work in this area. “I like being on the front lines.”
Farber also has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, and is typical of most people who study the discipline in graduate school. But others have backgrounds in mechanical and electrical engineering, mathematics and physics.
As a field of multi-disciplinary research carried out in schools, it is widespread. A hot zone is the development of autonomous, micro-air vehicles – some wider than 4 to 6 inches, from tip to tip. “They are basically flying sensors,” Shai says, and they can be used for environmental research, surveillance in combat zones, and environmental monitoring in disaster areas. By and large, Kyle DeMar, a doctoral student at the University of Texas, is designing a navigation system for an autonomous lunar lander. “It will be a predecessor for future manned lunar or Mars missions.”
how about that? Deimers’ research could help future astronauts reach the moon; Juliano can help them return safely to Earth. Decades after the Apollo Moon mission, grad students love the idea that they can join a new space race that can bring humans back to the moon – and possibly Mars. Farbar says: “This is mean to me.”