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AFIT hosts undergraduate summer interns studying hypersonics

  • Published
  • By Katie Scott
  • Air Force Institute of Technology

The Air Force Institute of Technology hosted ten undergraduate interns as part of the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics summer program. Sponsored by the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office, the goal of the program is to create a strong workforce to meet future hypersonic-related science and technology needs in the Department of Defense and industry.

This is the first year AFIT participated in the program. AFIT is a unique partner because of its emphasis on academic programs with a defense-related focus and research on high-priority defense problems.

Students came from schools all across the country and are pursuing degrees in the various STEM fields including aerospace, electrical and mechanical engineering, physics, math and computer science.

Targeting undergraduate level students for the intern program was intentional.

“Hypersonics is a really interesting and important area for the Department of Defense,” said Col. Nathan Terry, senior military professor and interim engineering physics department head. “It’s a growing area and we don't have enough people who are able to do it well. One way to grow that workforce is to have undergraduate interns working in engineering fields start working on these kind of projects. They get exposed to the DOD and see what it's like to be a government employee and possibly work with the DOD in this particular technology area in the future.”

 Hypersonics is a really interesting and important area for the Department of Defense 
Col. Nathan Terry, Director of the Center for Space Research and Assurance at the Air Force Institute of Technology

Dr. Lori M. Stiglitz, the director of workforce development for the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office, the sponsor of the program, was notably pleased with the progress the interns made through their direct involvement with the hypersonic research while also being mentored by the leading professors.

“Partnering with AFIT to expand the hypersonics workforce at this level has produced significant outcomes that will impact future hypersonic programs,” said Stiglitz. “It is rewarding to team up with quality academic institutions as we collectively tackle future hypersonic technology challenges.”

Six faculty members from AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management worked with the students on research topics such as materials oxidation performance at various temperatures and creating navigation satellite simulations for hypersonic studies. 

“We had to scope the projects to the level of background and experience that the students had, which for some was barely their second or third year in college,” said Dr. José Camberos, AFIT associate professor of aerospace engineering. “We gave them a broad perspective on selected hypersonic disciplines and fundamentals during a short course hosted at AFIT in June. They were able to rise to the occasion and quickly learn what they needed to - everything from applied math, to designing hypersonic vehicles, to doing experiments in the lab. I was impressed.”

Lucas Guaglardi, an intern from Arizona State University is in his junior year majoring in aerospace engineering. He worked on a computational material science study with Dr. Adib Samin, assistant professor of nuclear engineering.

“We were simulating defects in crystal structures called dislocations and the movement of them when subject to applied shear stress,” said Guaglardi. “We wanted to see whether the dislocation velocity was lower with less permanent deformation for the same stress when alloys exhibited short-range ordering. This was a new area of study for me. This internship opened my eyes to other opportunities for research, specifically computational material science.”

Intern Grayson Taeza-Gutter, is a senior studying mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He participated in the internship program to deepen his understanding of aircraft design and analysis.

“I worked on a project with Dr. Camberos to create a model based off a fictional concept of a hypersonic vehicle and analyze its flight performance,” said Taeza-Gutter. “This allowed us to explore the hypersonic regime between Mach 6 – 8 while also laying a foundation for Mach 10 and beyond hypersonic flow. This was a new area of study for me, as my knowledge in compressible flow only covers subsonic and supersonic flight.”

Nikolas Koutroulakis, a senior at Georgia Southern University, majoring in mathematics with a minor in computer science, also worked with Camberos to study techniques for combatting spoofing using switchable constraints; a new development in the field of robotics.

“It was cool to be able to work on projects that are on the cutting edge of research right now,” said Koutroulakis. “The problems and solutions we worked through have already started to inform approaches I have to other projects I have undertaken.”

At the end of the program, the interns presented their research projects to Dr. Lori Stiglitz and Matt Akers from JHTO. The presentation not only demonstrated their gained knowledge to the program sponsors, but also allowed the students to develop their technical communication and presenting skills. 

“Inspiring the interns to want to work in this area was one of the key things that we wanted to do with this program,” said Camberos. “To get them interested and involved in hypersonics by giving them meaningful research projects to work on. I think we accomplished the goal. One of the students expressed an interest in joining ROTC and several of the students expressed an interest in coming back next year.”

Feedback from the interns provides further evidence that the program was successful.

“Before this internship I had a general interest in the aeronautics industry,” said Taeza-Gutter. “However, after spending 10 weeks at Wright-Patt, my interest has been solidified and I am very interested in working more with aircraft, especially in hypersonic flow.”

“This experience has turned me to the possibility of doing government work, and potentially even a career in GPS,” said Koutroulakis.

“This internship exposed me to the world of aerodynamics and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics professional society, both of which are non-existent at my current university,” said Taeza-Gutter. “This internship experience has encouraged me and fellow intern Matthew Madayag, to start an AIAA chapter at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to introduce other students to the vast world of aerodynamics.”