College student scores publication in major journal, thanks to summer work at ARL

February 28, 2013

Story Highlights

  • ARL's summer student learns research process, lands major publication spot in peer reviewed journal
  • University of Florida undergraduate student was published in the Journal of Applied Physics
  • ARL's Vehicle Technology Directorate investigating technology for Army air platforms with next-generation aerodynamic performance

University of Florida Junior Thomas Underwood was published in the February 26 edition of the Journal of Applied Physics, a major accomplishment for any post-doctoral researcher yet achieved by an undergraduate student.

His paper, "Physics Based Lumped Element Circuit Model for Nanosecond Pulsed Dielectric Barrier Discharges," was accepted into the journal is based on the theoretical developments of the model that Thomas worked on while he worked at ARL.

"I was fortunate enough to be Thomas' mentor during his internship in 2011 in which we worked on this topic," said Dr. Bryan Glaz, ARL research aerospace engineer. "Thomas was very enthusiastic about his work. Even though he was an undergraduate student, he demonstrated the ability to independently conduct Ph.D. level research."

Underwood said his college research mentor encouraged him to apply for a summer position here, where he said he gained the most in "learning about the research process. My mentor for the summer in addition to the other research engineers that I came into contact within the Vehicle Technology Directorate were extremely supportive and instrumental in assisting me throughout the summer. Overall the summer program at ARL taught and guided me through the entire research process from developing a new idea to writing and presenting it," said Underwood.

At ARL, he worked to establish a circuit method for approximating the physics of plasma actuators. "Existing models relied on complicated discretization schemes that when coupled with a computational flow solver, often take months to converge to a solution. Obviously in the design process, such a simulation is highly impractical," said Underwood, who is scheduled to graduate in 2014 with a double major of nuclear engineering and physics and a minor in mathematics.

"Plasma actuators are of interest at ARL as they have shown potential for improved control over aerodynamic performance which could enable Army air vehicles, such as rotorcraft, with next-generation capabilities. The inherent advantages of plasma actuator flow control devices include: fast response time, surface compliance, lack of moving parts, inexpensiveness, and lightweight."

The purpose of Underwood's work, Glaz said, was related to the study of a new aerodynamic flow control.

"Our interest in these new directions in plasma based aerodynamic flow control is due to the potential for these approaches to lead to Army air platforms, such as rotorcraft, with next-generation aerodynamic performance. In the context of rotorcraft, effective aerodynamic flow control could result in leap-ahead payload and speed capabilities. In order to properly study these new flow control approaches, we need to develop computer models for simulation. However the plasma based approach that I had Thomas working on was a very new development in the research community and no one had yet developed a numerical model of the plasma that could be coupled with aerodynamics computer codes."

Another important goal of Thomas' model was that it needed to run very quickly, otherwise the coupled plasma/aerodynamics simulations would take far too long to run, Glaz said.

The journal's peer reviewers "all commented that the model described in Thomas' paper is the first approach to address these issues. So there was a limited body of previous research for Thomas to build on when he began his summer internship. As a result, Thomas was required to develop the theoretical basis for his model with almost no point of reference. I was extremely impressed with his ability to independently and creatively approach solutions to complicated new research problems which no one has yet addressed. The complexity of the problem Thomas addressed as an undergraduate summer intern here at ARL, as well as the quality of his work, is consistent with the initial portions of a Ph.D. thesis."

Underwood is currently applying to graduate school, with his toward a doctorate degree in applied plasma physics or biological physics. "Throughout the time spent in a doctoral program, I hope to push the boundaries of thought within the field of physics while still refining my academic abilities and striving for excellence. Ideally, all of the research and time spent in academia will lead me to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in either the Department of Physics or Mechanical Engineering at a university. I feel that no other career choice could fulfill my lifelong passion of inquiry better than being a professor," said the native of the rural Sebring, Fla.


Last Update / Reviewed: February 28, 2013