Paul Durbin awarded $1 million grant to study wall-bounded turbulence for U.S. Navy

Iowa State University aerospace engineering professor Paul Durbin will lead a $1,000,000 grant from the Department of Defense – U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to study wall-bounded turbulence. 

As Navy ships cruise through the water at 40 knots, even small objects along the hull such as barnacles, sand, and rivets can create turbulence that will affect the transport properties.

Paul Durbin, professor of aerospace engineering

Dr. Paul Durbin, professor of aerospace engineering at Iowa State University, received a $1 million grant from the Department of Defense – US Naval Research Laboratory to study wall-bounded turbulence by fundamental studies and data-driven modeling.

“The turbulent fluctuations are affecting the aerodynamic properties, or the drag, on the ship hull,” Durbin said. “The objective is to predict more complicated geometries than have wall-bounded turbulence to predict drag, lift, heat transfer, and lifetime erosion.”

Despite the massive size of a Navy ship, small objects can still cause problems. “Everything is bigger for the ship, so a barnacle is tiny comparatively,” Durbin said. “A barnacle for a ship might be more like dust. In aircraft engines, especially in the turbine, after the combustor you get carbon deposits that build up and that changes the heat transfer.”

Durbin, along with a researcher at the University of Michigan, will create simulations of wall-bounded turbulence that generate data. “We’re doing simulations and then we have different ways of modeling. We have two predictive strategies that we’re working on,” Durbin said.

With the first predictive strategy, Durbin will simulate the turbulence at much smaller resolutions so that it can become more practical. With the second, the researchers will develop predictive statistics through data driven modeling.

Iowa State Aerospace Engineering to lead $1 million NSF Grant

“The United States has a lot of general aviation flying around. From Personal aircrafts, to crop dusters, helicopters, and even UAVs.” – Assistant professor Peng Wei.

Iowa State University aerospace engineering assistant professors Peng Wei and Kristin Yvonne Rozier will lead a $1,000,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, creating a system to manage and monitor low-altitude air traffic.

Around the campus of Iowa State University, the sky can be bustling with helicopters, crop dusters, recreation planes, and personal unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). As technology improves, the sky is likely to get even more crowded. The increased traffic can present problems for pilots as well as people on the ground down below.

“In the United States, low-altitude is pretty busy compared with other countries,” said Peng Wei, an Iowa State assistant professor of aerospace engineering and principal investigator of a National Science Foundation grant. “We need to make sure we have a system to monitor this kind of traffic in both local airspace and also nation-wide so that we can have safe and efficient operations.”

Wei, along with Iowa State assistant professor Kristin Yvonne Rozier, University of Iowa professor Thomas Schnell, University of Michigan professor Ella Atkins, and

Lead investigator, Prof. Wei, will work with a number of other investigators, including Prof. Kristin Y. Rozier

George Hunter, principal data scientist at Mosaic ATM will create a way for the Federal Aviation Administration to maintain safe skies as they get more crowded. The team is specifically concerned with low-altitude, which the FAA defines as below 400 ft. above ground level.

“We will develop a system to monitor and manage and approve operations in low-altitude air traffic,” Wei said. “Our purpose is to give a software prototype to the FAA and also to the public to give the FAA more confidence as they enforce their own regulations and certifications.”

Wei likened the system to the way self-driving cars need structure in order to operate. “With autonomous cars, they can drive around but without traffic lights, stop signs, and intelligent signs on the roadway, they can’t function properly,” Wei said.

Three-step plan

The research team’s system will have three functions for UAV’s to follow. “The first one is called pre-departure flight planning,” Wei explained. “Before take off, we want to make sure the flight plan is safe and not conflicted with other air traffic.”

The second function is monitoring and alert. “After it takes off,” Wei said, “and even though it has followed the flight plan, what if another UAV malfunctions or birds or wind disrupts the flight plan? If everything goes to plan, we won’t require this step, but we need to detect a potential crash beforehand.”

“The final step is called emergency landing,” Wei said. “If the system recognizes a problem in the second step, the third step ensures that the aircraft can land safely or avoid further damage.”

The hope is to never need the second or third step of the system, but a plan will be ready just in case.

$1,000,000 award

The NSF is supporting the study with a three-year, $1,000,000 grant. Iowa State University, the lead institution, will coordinate with the other investigators throughout the process. During the first two years of the research, the team will create the working system and assemble all of the pieces together. In the third year, they will test the system and modify as needed on the campus of the University of Iowa.

Air traffic of the future

“Companies like Amazon and Google are talking about cargo airplanes to deliver medical supplies and other equipment,” Wei said, forecasting the future of air travel. “Uber and Air Bus are discussing autonomous flight or semi-autonomous flight to transport people.”

When you add those ventures on top of personal air travel and UAVs, the future of low-altitude air travel looks very busy. However, with a system in place, that air traffic will be much safer.

FAA convenes outreach meeting at Iowa State

Laboratory Supervisor Jim Benson (Left), shows the prototype of the Tornado Simulator to John Speckin, the Deputy Regional Administrator for FAA Central Region.

The Department of Aerospace Engineering hosted the Iowa Congressional Outreach for the Central Region of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday afternoon. Members of the FAA presented reports to airport directors, aviation professionals, and congressional staffers on FAA activity and regulations in Iowa throughout the past year.

James Oliver explains the research VRAC is conducting in augmented reality.

The meeting also touched on future developments for the FAA in Iowa, including the use of UAS and urban air mobility. Interim department chair Christina Bloebaum presented to the group, in addition to assistant professor Peng Wei and alum Akash Vidyadharan, CEO of InfraDrone, who gave brief overviews of research capabilities in the specific area of unmanned vehicles, a key topic for FAA at present.

After the meeting, the group was treated to a tour of the Iowa State WiST Lab and the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) by Laboratory Supervisor Jim Benson and VRAC Director, James Oliver. Attendees were able to see and hear about some of the research that is being conducted in aerospace engineering as well as see the advances being made in virtual reality and augmented reality.

Christina Bloebaum named interim department chair

College of Engineering Dean Sarah Rajala has named Christina Bloebaum, Dennis and Rebecca Muilenburg Professor of Aerospace Engineering, interim chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Bloebaum will succeed Rich Wlezien on August 1, 2017. Wlezien accepted a position as Vice Provost and Dean of Engineering and Computing at Missouri S&T.

Bloebaum, who has been at Iowa State for 5 years, is currently conducting research in the design of large-scale complex engineered systems. Prior to joining Iowa State, Professor Bloebaum was the Program Director for the Engineering and Systems Design and Systems Science programs at the National Science Foundation from 2009-2012.

“Christina has made vital contributions to the department in both her research and leadership since joining in 2012,” said Sarah Rajala, dean of the College of Engineering. “We know she will continue the positive atmosphere and provide our students with the highest quality education.”

Bloebaum is a Fellow of the AIAA and the 2012 recipient of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Award. She has graduated 15 Ph.D. students, 76 M.S. students, and has had over $8 million in research funding. During her time at Iowa State, she has served as Director of Graduate Educations as well as Associate Chair for Research.

Bloebaum will lead a department which boasts Iowa State’s 5th most popular major with 761 undergraduate students during the 2017 spring semester. She will continue in this role until a permanent chair has been chosen.

MAVRIC takes on University Rover Challenge

The MAVRIC team competed in the 2017 University Rover Challenge held in Hanksville, Utah and organized by the Mars Society. The competition, which took place from June 1-3, featured a record 82 teams from across the world.  

Based on a video submission and report, the URC trims the field to 36 teams that are then invited to the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the southern desert of Utah. MAVRIC was one of the 36 teams invited to compete in Utah. High temperatures, dust and sand were just a few of the elements the teams and their rovers had to deal with as they aimed to complete four tasks: Equipment Servicing, Science Cache, and new this year was the Extreme Delivery and Traversal and a fully autonomous mode task.  

The MAVRIC team at the MDRS Habitat.

The MAVRIC team faced many challenges upon arrival to the MDRS. Electrical issues caused a problem with control of the arm on the first task which was the Extreme Delivery and Traversal task. After the team debugged many of the issues, they competed the next day in the Equipment Servicing task only to have an electrical short that disabled the rover shortly into the task. On the final day, the team was able to compete in the Science Cache task only to have another problem with the rovers drive motors. The team was able to compete to the end, but the electrical issues resulted in a final score of 146.6 points and put them at 31st place.  

“The MAVRIC team learned a lot from this experience and they worked very hard on the rover, often working through the night to make repairs to the rover.” said Matthew Nelson, Make to Innovate Director and also accompanied the team on the trip.

Nelson also stated that the extreme environment in the desert often causes electrical systems to fail. The team is currently planning on a new design for the rover that can compete in the URC in 2018.

AerE graduates receive surprise visit from Dennis Muilenburg

The students and their parents enjoyed a breakfast in Howe Hall before the reception.

Graduating aerospace engineering students were honored at a reception on Saturday morning. The students enjoyed breakfast with their families and professors before a ceremony in Hoover Hall to recognize the graduates as well as several exceptional honorees.

Dennis Muilenburg (AerE ’86) stopped by before delivering the commencement speech to the rest of the graduating class.

The reception featured a surprise visit from aerospace engineering alum Dennis Muilenburg ’86 who is this year’s commencement speaker. Muilenburg is the President, CEO, and Chairman of the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing. Muilenburg spoke to the graduates 31 years after he sat in the very same seat as a graduating senior from Iowa State. “From one Cyclone to another, congratulations,” Muilenburg said.

In his final Spring Commencement as a professor, Dr. Ambar Mitra addressed the students and greeted the award winners.

Following the reception, the students will join the rest of the graduating class in Jack Trice Stadium for commencement. 

To view more photos from the event, click here.

AerE alum, Dennis Muilenburg to deliver commencement address

Dennis Muilenburg (AerE ’86) will deliver the Spring Commencement address on Saturday, May 4 at Jack Trice Stadium. Muilenburg, who serves as chairman, president and CEO of The Boeing Company, will address a record 4,322 graduates. The world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing employs approximately 150,000 people across the United States and in more than 65 countries. He is receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree for “outstanding contributions to the advancement of science and technology, particularly in the field of aerospace engineering.”

Throughout his career, Muilenberg has maintained a connection to Iowa State and the undergraduate students. Muilenburg was recently at Iowa State in the fall, along with fellow AerE alum, Vance Coffman, to share their perspectives on aerospace engineering with a group of students and faculty. Muilenburg also announced Boeing’s sponsorship of the M:2:I program.

This marks the second time in the last nine years that an aerospace engineering alum has delivered the commencement address. Clay Anderson (MS 1983) spoke at the 2009 commencement.

CNDE announces new associate directors

The Center for Nondestructive Evaluation has announced the appointment of three new associate directors, Prof’s Peter Collins (MSE), Stephen Holland (AerE) and Simon Laflamme (CCEE).

These appointments aim to strengthen CNDE’s faculty engagement and growth in activities as it moves forward in alignment with both the University and College level

Stephen Holland (AerE), Simon Laflamme (CCEE, and Peter Collins (MSE)

grand challenge theme in advanced materials and manufacturing. In addition, the new associate directors will also improve activities that relate to use of advanced NDE in enabling sustainable infrastructures and energy systems. 

Professor Peter Collins, associate professor of materials science and engineering, will lead activities in material state awareness, with an emphasis on aspects of metrology and materials science as they relate to additive manufacturing.

Professor Stephen Holland, associate professor of aerospace engineering, will work on digital data tools including digital twin and data fusion.

Professor Simon LaFlamme, associate professor in civil engineering will be looking at accelerated condition assessment, going beyond topics that are currently covered in more conventional, structural health monitoring.

Director of CNDE, Prof. Leonard Bond will continue to provide direction and leadership in advanced NDE. Together the team will work to engage CNDE clients and sponsors in an agenda for growth in partnership with the P&S researchers and students.

CNDE is working to maintain a core of advanced experimental tools, modeling and simulation and digital data tools which form the heart of advanced (traditional) NDE and engaged in three growth areas, Material State Awareness, Accelerated Condition Evaluation (AKA Structural Health Monitoring) and Digital NDE.

Iowa State selected for 2018 Collegiate Wind Competition

The 2018 Collegiate Wind Competition will be held in Chicago.

Iowa State was one of 12 universities selected to compete in the 2018 Collegiate Wind Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Held during the WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, May 7-10, the Collegiate Wind Competition requires students to build a model wind turbine and develop a business and deployment plan for their turbine prototype. The turbines will be tested in a wind tunnel and judged by a panel of wind industry leaders to determine the winning university.

Iowa State will be competing in the competition for the first time after Juana Castelli, a Junior AerE major from Argentina, saw the 2016 competition and decided it was something she wanted to pursue.

“I went to the 2016 event in New Orleans and watched the competition and talked to people,” Castelli said. “It was really fun so I thought, ‘I really want this for the Wind Energy Student Organization (WESO).’ ”

Dr. Sri Sritharan, Dr. Julienne Krennrich, and Dr. Hui Hu

It was at the 2016 conference that Castelli had an unexpected run-in with two people from Iowa State, CCEE professor Sri Sritharan and assistant director of the Engineering Research Institute, Julienne Krennrich. Castelli and Krennrich helped Sritharan, who is the project’s Principal Investigator, write and submit the successful proposal to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which sponsors the competition. Sritharan said “I wrote the proposal due to the enthusiasm shown by Castelli and her fellow students towards the national competition and am happy that they get to compete next year.” The proposal stressed the Iowa State resources that contribute to wind energy research and education.

“Iowa State does so much with wind energy research so we’re still trying to figure out what we want our project to be,” Castelli said. “There are so many ideas at Iowa State.”

Next on the agenda for Castelli is organizing students who are interested in working on the project. While Castelli is an aerospace engineering major, she has already

Juana Castelli is the president of the Wind Energy Student Organization.

reached out to a lot of students with different interests.

“I’m hoping to get at least one more person from aerospace,” Castelli said. “We do have mechanical, electrical , as well as civil and environmental engineering students. We’ll also need business majors and marketing majors for parts of the competition. So right now we’re trying to recruit.”

Along with Hui Hu, professor of aerospace engineering, Sritharan will teach two courses next year to prepare the students for the competition. The students will also be supported by Krennrich and Eugene Takle, professor of agronomy and faculty advisor to WESO. The collaboration of engineering departments working on this project, as well as the addition of business students, make this a truly unique interdisciplinary opportunity.

Students interested in joining the team can contact Juana Castelli at