"Aerospace engineering encompasses more than what public opinion might think. It goes beyond airplanes, spacecrafts and satellites; aerospace engineering is even present in renewable energies."

Current Research - Supersonic and Hypersonic Transport

I am currently working under the supervision of Professor Harsha Chelliah (pictured above) on a supersonic combustion project thanks to a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduate students grant (NSF-REU). As part of our research, we are studying high speed flame stabilization over a cavity flame holder. Flame stabilization is important because understanding injection, mixing and combustion processes in supersonic wind tunnels will determine our ability to reproduce similar stable flame conditions in scramjet (Supersonic combustion ramjet) engines that will be used to power hypersonic planes.  This is critical for the successful design of future supersonic/hypersonic transport systems, for both civilian and military applications.

To understand the flame stabilization, we are looking at the effects of the changing flame structure using a laser based diagnostic technique. In this system, we employ pump and dye lasers to emit a laser beam that will excite gas molecules present in supersonic combusting ramjet (Scramjet) engine flame. Specifically, we are able to capture images to visualize the hydroxide (OH) and Methylidyne (CH*) chemical species present in the flame. Those images can be used to extract flame structure features such as flame front and curvature and to understand the heat release rate which is directly correlated with the OH regions. The laser based diagnostic technique known as Planar Laser Induced Fluorescence (PLIF) also allow us to compare experimental data with those generated by numerical simulation methods. Our goal is to achieve stable high speed combustion with well-defined turbulence levels in the flow and to clearly understand and reproduce or modify flow conditions.

What made you choose UVA Engineering?

I chose UVA engineering because of the illimitable opportunities that it offers. From research to professional organizations and clubs, UVA engineering allows students to thrive and be involved in mind-blowing projects with immediate impact on society.

What drew you to Aerospace Engineering?

I was drawn to Aerospace Engineering because my father was an aeronautical engineer, and while growing up I loved going to the airport hangars with him and watching planes take off and land. However, I did not think I would pursue a degree in Aerospace Engineering, because at the time I wanted to become a chemical engineer. After taking introductory courses in chemistry and physics, I realized that I liked physics better, so I decided to pursue Aerospace engineering. The Introduction to Aerospace Engineering course reinforced my desire to continue in that field, and at that moment, I knew that had made the right decision.

What are some projects you've worked on in the department?

As part of the SUMR wind turbine project, I worked on developing a hinge mechanism that would pitch/morph 100m wind turbine blades to improve power efficiency under different wind speed conditions. I also performed FEA analysis on a hinge design to test its limitations. The principal investigator for this was Doctor Eric Loth.

I also briefly worked on Abaqus simulations of materials for bulletproof applications in Professor Baoxing Xu's lab as a second year.

What do you plan to do with your degree?

Once I graduate, I hope to pursue Aerospace Engineering graduate studies in the field of combustion and propulsion, with the hope of eventually working as a jet engine design engineer.

What can you tell us about your experience in AE?

Aerospace engineering encompasses more than what public opinion might think. It goes beyond airplanes, spacecrafts and satellites; aerospace engineering is even present in renewable energies. For example, one of the projects I worked on was the SUMR wind turbine project at UVA. It applies aerodynamics concepts to pitch and morph hundred-meter blades.

Awards, Scholarships and Designations

Vanessa is currently the President of  the UVA Chapter of Sigma Gamma Tau and is the former V.P. of Outreach for Sigma Gamma Tau. She was also the recipient of a MAE departmental scholarship, the Pilkey Scholarship, in her 2nd year. 

"I have a message for first-year engineering students, especially women. Choosing aerospace engineering was one the best decisions of my life – I encourage you to not be intimidated and follow your engineering dreams!"