AerE welcomes visit from alum, Major General Clinton Crosier

Major General Clinton Crosier and Director of VRAC Jim Oliver discuss augmented reality research during his tour of Howe Hall.

On Monday, the Department of Aerospace Engineering welcomed Major General Clinton Crosier ‘87 for a visit. Before Maj. Gen. Crosier delivered a speech titled, “National Defense and International Security,” at the Memorial Union, he stopped by Howe Hall to speak with students.

Crosier is director of operational capability requirements and deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements for the Air Force. He creates and assesses the needs for modernization plans for fighters, bombs, space systems, missile defense and cyber requirements. He also directs and supervises more than 110 military and civilian employees in seven divisions.

Crosier met with interim chair Christina Bloebaum, lecturer Tomas Gonzalez-Torres, and M:2:I program coordinator Matthew Nelson. He was treated to a tour of the

Major General Clinton Crosier prepares for a virtual trip to the deck of an aircraft carrier.

department and saw the research facilities as well as the student labs.

Crosier also met with James Oliver, Director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center, and toured the VRAC facilities. Crosier saw what researchers are doing with augmented reality and went inside the C6, to experience virtual reality on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

After his tour, Crosier took questions from aerospace engineering students and faculty and spoke about his experience in the military.

Aer E researchers receive $2.4 million grant to improve decision making with food, energy and water systems

Iowa State University researchers have received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to analyze food, energy and water (FEW) interdependencies and create a simulator that will assist in better decision making with FEW systems.

Christina Bloebaum

Led by Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Interim Department Chair, Christina Bloebaum, researchers will examine how decisions made by individual stakeholders within the FEW system can have an impact on everything else in the system. Further, the team will investigate how incentive and policy structures can be developed to achieve balance across stakeholders to avoid unintended consequences.

The researchers received a $2.4 million continuous grant from the NSF as a part of the Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) program. Bloebaum and her team were awarded $1.1 million this year and will receive the remaining $1.3 million next year. The grant is part of a $36 million initiative from the NSF and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to research how best to provide food, energy and water throughout the world as Earth’s population continues to rise.

As decisions about food, energy and water are made at a federal level, unintended consequences can occur at a local level that have disastrous outcomes.

“Because this is a coupled system, decision outcomes propagate throughout the entire system,” Bloebaum said. “With food, energy, and water, people have been making decisions in one subsystem without having any responsibility for the impact on the rest.”

The Aerospace Engineering Connection

Although it might seem like an odd pairing, Bloebaum and aerospace engineering colleague, Peng Wei, are bringing their aerospace engineering research to FEW systems because of the similarities of the two complex systems.

“My research is in the field of multidisciplinary design optimization,” Bloebaum said. “In MDO, we want to know things like, how do you best design a complex system such as an airplane or spacecraft system? How do you rigorously model the interactions in the complex system? With this project, we’re bringing our aerospace engineering systems knowledge to the world of food, energy and water, which is another complex system, to understand the inherent couplings and to investigate the best means of supporting decisions to achieve consensus across the FEW system.”

That complex push and pull is something aerospace engineers know well. The strategies involved in designing a complex aerospace system can translate well to other situations.

“I have been developing decision support tools and automation for the aviation community for years,” Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering Peng Wei said. “This is a new challenge and I am excited to bring my work to the food, energy and water problem setting to make my contribution to this community.”

FEW in Iowa

This is intake for water drain off from a field of soybean and, in the background, corn. The water drainage often has excess nitrates. Des Moines Water Works spends more than any other water works to remove the nitrates from the drinking water in Des Moines.

Food, energy and water resources play an especially important role in Iowa with the agriculture industry. An example of the impact that changes can have on coupled systems occurred recently with Iowa at the center.

Government subsidies for biofuels caused many Iowa farmers to switch from selling their corn as food to selling it for biofuel. As enough farmers made the switch, that set off food shortages in other parts of the world  because of the lack of corn being sold as food.

Another Iowa-centric issue pertains to the unanticipated high nitrate levels in drainage groundwater from excess fertilization of farm fields. The water then flows into the Racoon and Des Moines Rivers, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. The excess nitrogen has been responsible for significant environmental impacts as well as high tax rates for Des Moines residents, given the need to remove the nitrates from their drinking water.

These domino effects are what the multidisciplinary team of researchers are trying to prevent by looking at large scale systems and understanding the couplings and the impact of them.

Simulating reality

One of the tools that the research team plans on creating to improve decision making is a simulator called IFEWS (Iowa Food Energy Water Simulator). Jim Oliver, Director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University will create the interactive visualization-based environment with the cyber-based simulator embedded within.

“Jim will create an environment that allows us to visualize the environment and then use our design and decision making strategies so that you can see how a decision will propagate throughout the system and the degree to which it impacts everything else,” Bloebaum said.

The simulator, which will match reality, gives researchers an opportunity to test different incentive and policy strategies to understand what the trades are.

Due to the large scope, the project will pull researchers from many disciplines to contribute.

“We’ve got people from agriculture and biosystems engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and philosophy,” Bloebaum said. “We’re bringing all sorts of people together so that’s a challenge, but it’s also exciting so we think that it will be fun.”

The ISU team also includes Clark Wolf, Director and Professor of Philosophy, and Amy Kaleita, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. Wolf is the Director of the Bioethics Program at ISU and performs research in sustainable agriculture, amongst other topics. Kaleita’s primary focus is on technology for precision conservation, with expertise in crop and hydrological modeling. The team will collaborate with with Ali Abbas, Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, Director of the Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making (DECIDE).

U.S. Air Force general and Aer E alumnus will speak on defense and security at ISU Oct. 9

This article was published on Iowa State University’s New Services website. Click here to read the full article.
By Teddi Barron 

AMES, Iowa — An Iowa State alum and U.S. Air Force general who develops and evaluates requirements for Air Force-wide modernization programs at the Pentagon will speak at Iowa State University.

Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier will present “National Defense and International Security” at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 9, in the Memorial Union Great Hall. His public talk is free and part of the university’s World Affairs series.

Crosier is director of operational capability requirements and deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements for the Air Force. He creates and assesses the needs for modernization plans for fighters, bombs, space systems, missile defense and cyber requirements. He also directs and supervises more than 110 military and civilian employees in seven divisions.

Crosier has a broad range of experience in intercontinental ballistic missile and space operations, including a deployment to the Middle East as the U.S. Central Command director of space forces. His assignments include staff positions in the U.S. Senate, Office of the Secretary of Defense and Air Force Global Strike Command.

Prior to his current assignment, Crosier was the director of plans and policy at U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, where he oversaw the development and implementation of national security policy and military strategy, as well as development of the nation’s strategic war plan.

Crosier attended ISU on an Air Force ROTC scholarship and was commissioned in 1988 after receiving his degree in aerospace engineering.

Crosier’s presentation is co-sponsored by the military science department, political science department, World Affairs committee and the Committee on Lectures, which is funded by Student Government.

More information on ISU lectures is available online, or by calling 515-294-9935.

Graduate student begins Pathways Internship at Air Force Research Laboratory

Andrew Thelen, a PhD student in aerospace Engineering, began a Pathways Internship this fall at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, just east of Dayton, Ohio. The AFRL leads the discovery, development, and integration of warfighting technologies for the U.S. air, space, and cyberspace forces. Andrew earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering in 2012 from Iowa State University and an M.S. in aerospace engineering in 2016.

Tell me how you first became aware of the Pathways Internship

AT: I first became familiar with Pathways Internships when I was interning at NASA Langley in fall 2016. My mentor there mentioned I may want to look into it, since most of their branch’s new hires started out as pathways. Both NASA and AFRL post their pathways openings on USAjobs, so I used that site a lot as a reference.

How did you become interested in this program?

AT: The pathways internship program sounded like a great learning experience, and in most cases it is a great way to secure employment after graduation. Also it pays very

Andrew Thelen earned his M.S. and B.S. from Iowa State in aerospace engineering.

well compared to assistantships, and my adviser (Leifur Leifsson) fully supported that type of opportunity. After my NASA Langley internship last fall, I was hoping for a NASA pathways position (I was unfamiliar with AFRL at the time), but they have only been posting those about once per year. Among those posted, only a handful seek graduate students and even fewer seek PhD students specifically.

At a conference in January, Dr. Leifsson got to know a researcher here (Philip Beran) and mentioned that I was seeking a pathways position. They were interested in collaborating through a research grant, and having me work at AFRL would help facilitate that. Pretty soon afterwards, Dr. Beran’s supervisor posted an opportunity so I applied for it. After some research, I found that NASA and AFRL have collaborated on numerous projects, and Dr. Beran has published many papers with NASA Langley researchers. Therefore, if I had gotten hired at NASA then I may have worked on the same projects as AFRL anyway, so it made sense to consider AFRL too. A few months down the road, I was offered the position and Dr. Beran ended up being my mentor.

Do you have an idea of what you will be doing there?

AT: We have a plan at least. I will be working on multi-fidelity approaches for fast flutter prediction of airfoils and wings. This is a joint project between the AFRL and Dr. Leifsson’s research group (the Simulation-Driven Optimization (SDO) Lab []). Ideally, the project will answer questions such as how broadly applicable multi-fidelity approaches are, how much you can speed up the analysis process, or whether you can derive more benefits through using more data. I will also get some exposure to other projects, including one with NASA, which is focused on expanding the FUN3D CFD code to produce aeroelastic sensitivities (Sensitivity Analysis for Multidisciplinary Systems (SAMS)). After coming up with the methods, I hope to wrap everything up into a generic code that will output flutter analysis results when given the appropriate data. That way, AFRL can use the methods for a variety of applications.

What has your research focused on?

AT: My research has been focused on aerodynamic shape optimization, which is a mix between design optimization and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). I focus specifically on surrogate modeling approaches rather than direct gradient-based methods. Dr. Leifsson started at ISU the same semester I started graduate school, so a lot of my time has been spent building CFD models. We now have some pretty good tools for optimizing wings and airfoils, so next we would like to set up some fluid-structure interaction (FSI) models.

What would you like to do with your career?

AT: After graduation, I would like to work in government for at least a few years. I enjoy government because it is not really driven by profits, but rather the organization’s mission statements. In the realm of aeronautics, that usually means investigating novel aircraft configurations or analysis methods, and ultimately steering industry in a certain direction (e.g. to reduce emissions, speed up the design process, lower costs, etc.). 

How have you enjoyed your time so far?

AT: Yes, it has been enjoyable so far. The first couple weeks have been fairly laid back, since it will take time to get my computer/software set up. I expect the pace to pick up as I participate more in team efforts, which I look forward to.

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.

Undeclared students visit aerospace engineering

Incoming undeclared engineering major’s visited the Department of Aerospace Engineering on Wednesday afternoon to get an idea of what life would be like as an AerE major.

The students ran through a game of Paper Airplane Express, a team building exercise where students work as a team to assemble paper airplanes according to strict regulations. The activity is one that NASA has used to encourage teamwork and simulate working within government regulations.

In addition to Paper Airplane Express, students also heard from the AerE advisors and saw a tour of the department’s labs and facilities. Students also visited other departments within the College of Engineering to get a feel for what the other engineering disciplines have to offer.

AerE talks rockets at Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa welcomed the Department of Aerospace Engineering to speak to children at the SCI Take Flight Summer Camp. Teaching laboratory associate, Carolyn Riedel, and

Riedel explains the different parts of a rocket to a group of 4-year-olds.

graduate program assistant, Sara Goplin, spoke to the children, ages 3-5, about rockets and space.

Riedel and Goplin spent time with two different classes, taking questions and speaking to them about how rockets work and how they are used. They also assisted one of the classes with a rocket launch, creating rockets using plastic bottles and launching them with an air compressor. The students learned the parts of a rocket and experimented with their designs before launch. All of the children were very curious, asking questions about space, astronauts, and rockets.

Riedel and Goplin were also able to show the children career paths for aerospace engineers and inspire some future engineers.


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.