Faculty and Graduate Students Reflect on Working in the Gas Turbine Field

Feb 29, 2012

by Michael Abrams ASME.org

Opportunities are Exciting and Ever-Expanding

ASME International Gas Turbine Institute volunteers Dr. Karen Thole and Dr. Knox Millsaps, Jr., have been instrumental in mentoring and establishing programs for young engineers studying in the field of gas turbines. In this article, Thole and Millsaps have each provided a profile of one of their gas turbine students and what they have accomplished in the dynamic field of gas turbine engineering.

Perspective from the Pennsylvania State University Gas Turbine Program:

Attracting top students who have an interest in learning about gas turbines is key to ultimately filling the pipeline of talented engineers needed by the turbine industry.  To attract those top students, universities need excellent educational and research programs as well as state of the art experimental and computational facilities.  Many top students seek research opportunities to work on real-world problems, which can only be provided by industry through either directly funded projects or federally funded projects that have strong industry input.  Learning about the gas turbine industry and the challenges not only come from within the classroom, but also from the collaborations between industry, government, and academia.

Molly Eberly Molly Eberly, MSME graduate student at Penn State, works in the lab.
Molly Eberly is an MSME graduate student at Penn State. She describes her experiences in the gas turbine field:


Before coming to graduate school, I knew very little about gas turbine engines.  I began to learn about them, however, after joining Penn State’s Experimental and Computational Convection Lab at Penn State.  Being part of this lab has taught me quickly that the engine air temperatures exiting the combustion chamber are well above the melting temperature of the turbine blades just downstream.  I also learned that most engine manufacturers keep the blade from failing by sending cooler air through the center shaft, through the inside of the blade, and then out through tiny holes onto the blade surface.  This creates a thin film of protective, cooler air around the blade, earning the technique the name film cooling.  Film cooling became the focus of my graduate research. 

Penn State has provided me with many resources at my fingertips.  I collect heat transfer and flow field measurements to characterize the effectiveness of different film cooling configurations, and I have used Infrared, Laser Doppler Velocimetry, and Particle Image Velocimetry techniques to capture that data.  The wind tunnel with which I work is less than 2 years old, and I use liquid nitrogen to simulate the coolant gases.  All things considered, it’s a pretty fun collection of “toys” that I get to play with every day!  This work has taught and prepared me well for the future, and there are several aspects of a career in the gas turbine industry that I find attractive.  Large gas turbine manufacturers offer a huge variety of jobs that includes cooling technologies for the hot gas path in the turbine, aerodynamics, structural dynamics, combustion, and cold air flow through the compressor.  However, turbines aren’t just used to power aircraft; smaller research contractors close to Penn State use steam turbines in underwater powered vehicles.  This introduces a completely different and exciting set of engineering problems to solve!  For a career in the turbine industry, I won’t be lacking in opportunities. 

Perspective from the Naval Postgraduate School Gas Turbine Program:

Gas Turbines have been used in many applications including aviation, power production, process plants, ship propulsion, and a number of other applications, for more than half a century. While the increases in performance and reliability over the last 60 years have been nothing short of astounding, research into still better systems is continuing, and this means there are great opportunities for young engineers working for industry, in universities, and for the government, to have exciting careers in further improving these vital systems that widely benefit society.  

One of the many exciting opportunities for students to contribute to energy security and help protect the environment is through developing the knowledge of how to use alternative fuels, such as bio-derived jet (gas Turbine) fuels, in gas turbines.

Research underway at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), in Monterey, California supports the U. S. Navy’s goals of using biofuels (50/50 blends) in both aircraft and surface ship gas turbines. In order for users, such as the Navy or commercial airliners, to have confidence that these fuels will be acceptable drop in replacements, a number of physical and chemical experiments are necessary along with full engine certification tests.

LT Omari Buckley Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student, LT Omari Buckley, USN, at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California briefs his research on the fundamental combustion properties of biofuels to the Secretary of The Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus.
One such set of experiments is being done by LT Omari Buckley, USN. His research is on determining the laminar flame speed of pure biofuels (and blended fuels of different proportions), known as Hydro-Reformed-Jet (HRJ), and comparing these with the fuels used in the Navy for aircraft (JP-5) and ships (F-76/DFM). Results from LT Buckley’s thesis research and other work at NPS on ignition delays and heat release rates will be vital in identifying potential problems in candidate fuels, and will help calibrate computations tools.


This work and many, many other gas turbine projects in universities, industry, and government labs around the world provide exciting and useful ways for young engineers to contribute to an environmentally friendly way for gas turbines to provide power and propulsion for the 21st Century.  


Contributing Authors:

  • Dr. Karen Thole, Professor and Department Head, Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Dr. Knox Millsaps, Professor and Chairman, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Naval Postgraduate School
  • Molly Eberly, MSME graduate student at The Pennsylvania State University