“It’s not rocket science.” Well, for Abhinav Dasari, it is.
This rocket scientist is studying unsteady combustion in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Through his research, he aims to determine the root cause of instability in rocket combustion, which would ultimately help reduce time and costs involved in industrial development programs.
“I came here as a Master’s student in the fall of 2012, and when I finished I converted to the Ph.D. program. In my lab, I conduct experiments on a laboratory scale rocket combustor, which we constructed based on a NASA design. We light it up, examine the reactions, and determine what makes the combustion unsteady. Once we determine what causes those instabilities, we can figure out how they can be eliminated,” he describes.
On the significance of his research, Abhinav says “Though we’ve been sending people into space for decades, this is a continuing science. Rocket combustion is understood but not perfected. There have been problems since the first trip to the moon, and as modern engines and technologies develop, we come back to some of the old problems, and face some new ones. With the recent focus on environmental pollution, it’s a whole new set of challenges.” The applications of his research are broad, ranging from NASA’s space missions to private companies pursuing space exploration. Applications filter to studying combustion issues for airplane engines as well.
Abhinav first visited the U.S. as an undergraduate senior while competing in the Spirit Global Design Challenge, where his team designed aircrafts of the future. While here, he visited some of the best institutions for a graduate education in aerospace engineering, and finally decided on U-M because the aerospace department had a strong background in both computational and experimental work. “Throughout my undergraduate program I had focused mostly on computational research, but I still didn’t know which field I wanted to pursue. Fortunately, my opportunities here at U-M have enabled me to explore both avenues,” he elaborates.
In his first year as a Master’s student, Abhinav worked on a computational project about electric propulsion. That summer, he was awarded a Rackham Centennial Fellowship, the funding of which enabled him to pursue an experimental project with his current advisor. As the summer progressed, his interest in experimental research increased, leading him to request a continuance in the lab as a Ph.D. student.
A strong department has helped make Abhinav’s graduate school experience extremely positive: “My cohort is just awesome. My advisor joined the University at same time I did, and he spends a lot of time in the lab with me. We have so many interesting experiments in progress. Sometimes I forget that it’s work, and won’t realize that 16 hours have passed by,” says Abhinav.
Abhinav presents the results of his research at various conferences around the country every year. In his own words, “At these conferences I am able to share my work, receive helpful feedback, and network with others in my field. These are invaluable experiences that wouldn’t be possible without both my advisor and Rackham Travel Grants.”
In addition to experimental work, Abhinav and his lab make a point to give back to the community. They participate in Xplore Engineering, a summer outreach program sponsored by MConnex. “Our lab developed a workshop called ‘Make the Wind Work for You,’ where we taught kids of alumni about wind turbines, and gave them kits to take home.” Outside of the lab, Abhinav is very active both on campus and in the Ann Arbor community. On campus, he mentors undergraduate and Master’s students as a part of the Lunch and Lab program, where he answers questions about graduate school. He also served on the Aerospace Engineering Centennial Planning Committee, where he was responsible for setting up a time capsule. During the summers, Abhinav volunteers at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair and at the Arboretum. This past year, he was also a part of the Elementary Mathematics Laboratory, a summer program sponsored by the School of Education that helps local elementary school students boost their math skills. He says, “It’s an interesting experience to patiently explain how things work and to look at things from their perspective.”
Abhinav prefers biking over driving in Ann Arbor, and has found a faster way too: “I’m also doing pilot training at the Ann Arbor airport – I’m one flight away from my private pilot’s license. It’s good to have practical experience with what you’re working on; this allows me that chance.”
He has a few years before embarking on his own career, and is currently weighing the benefits between jobs in the aerospace industry and academia: “There is more freedom in research projects in academia – you can pursue interesting ideas once grant money is secured. Industrial projects are usually more directed and have a more tangible impact on society. Whatever I do, I’d like to stay focused on research.”
On life in Ann Arbor, this international student from India says, “I’m pretty much at home here. I am happy with life both inside and outside of my work. Ann Arbor is modern but with a small town feel—you get to know everyone, and there is always something to do. I like it—even though it’s cold most of the year! It’s is a nice place, and I’d stay here forever if I could.”