U.Va. Engineering UnBound

UNBOUND Fall 2013

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Commonw e a lt h C e n t e r s The two Commonwealth Centers that have emerged from the Rolls-Royce partnership provide a focal point for Engineering School research. Undergraduates Max Newman (left) and Jane Hawkins are working with Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor Eric Loth to devise a method to prevent particles from being sucked into jet engines. particle-free flow A gas turbine's voracious appetite for air — the source of its tremendous power — can also be a source of vulnerability, especially in dusty conditions. In these circumstances, the particle-laden air it pulls through its inlet can scour its compressor blades and other engine parts. This creates expensive maintenance and inventory problems, especially for helicopters. With funding from the Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems (CCAPS), Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor Eric Loth is trying to understand the routes that particles take as they are pulled into the engine. His goal is to develop strategies to divert them without impeding airflow. "There is a lot of fluid and particle dynamics that goes into their movement," Loth says. "We've devised new techniques to measure this flow that have revealed how unsteady and three-dimensional it is." Previous attempts to separate the particles were limited because they were based on the assumption that the flow is two-dimensional and steady. Loth's new insight only highlights the difficulty of the challenge. "Pulling out the 6 large particles will be relatively easy," he says. "Our goal is to find ways to extract the small particles, which gets progressively harder as they approach molecular size." The project has benefited, from both research and educational perspectives, from the high level of engagement that Rolls-Royce and its project manager, Philip Snyder, have displayed. "Phil is deeply involved in the project and effectively serves as joint supervisor for my graduate students," Loth says. "They're getting a lot of wonderful, real-world feedback that would be difficult for them to get otherwise." One student recently completed a doctoral degree. The CCAPS-sponsored project has also had an impact on undergraduate education. Loth has had five undergraduates helping on the project thus far, providing an ideal opportunity for them to get a strong sense of how actual research differs from the lab experiments they do for class. "This work is much more complicated, much more sophisticated and much more relevant," Loth says. "There's a whole company — Rolls-Royce — that cares about what they discover."

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