Published: April 26, 2018 By

Katherine Cummins and Andrea Ashley

Katherine Cummins and Andrea Ashley.

Two students in the College of Engineering and Applied Science have been awarded the prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship that will pay for their research and other expenses for the next three years.

Paid for by the Department of Defense, the NDSEG fellowship is a grant to encourage doctoral students to pursue research that may assist our nation's defense efforts.

Katherine Cummins, a mechanical engineering PhD candidate working under Assistant Professor Nicole Labbe, applied for the grant with a hope of learning, rather than of winning.

“Coming into this knowing how sought-after these grants are, I didn’t think I had a chance,” Cummins said. “I just thought it would be good practice for writing proposals.”

Cummins found herself in the validating position of winning the NDSEG award after also winning the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Where NSF funding recipients used to be able to defer the funding for three years, therefore using both grants, now simultaneous awardees are forced to choose between the two. Cummins, citing a higher stipend, health insurance and funding to attend one conference per year, will be accepting the NDSEG grant.

Cummins’ research lies in the area of airplane flameout. Flameout, or engine failure, occurs in about one in every 100,000 commercial flights but is more prevalent in military flying due to more acrobatic maneuvers at higher altitudes. Normally, planes need to significantly reduce their altitude to relight the extinguished engine, but Cummins’ research is looking to fix that.

By studying the ignition chemistry of jet fuel, Cummins is trying, through computer simulations, to reduce flameout and negate the need to drop altitude for reigniting purposes.

Andrea Ashley, an electrical engineering PhD candidate working under Assistant Professor Dimitra Psychogiou, also won the NDSEG grant for her work in consolidating devices that make up radar.

Having previously worked for the federal government analyzing signals to inform the department for the building of countermeasures, Ashley is using her PhD to learn the hardware side of radio frequency devices.

“My experience was on the signal processing side of things,” Ashley said. “I never had the experience of building something, testing it and making sure it meets required specifications. My research here will help me on the fabricating side of things and creating devices that are used in the RF front end.”

William Doe, the research development manager for the college and a former reviewer for NDSEG in the area of geosciences, pointed to the importance of these awards to the college as a whole.

“If you look at the institutions where they were won, this shows CU is a top-tier university for defense research,” he said.

The Department of Defense provides the college with over $10 million per year in sponsored research, which is approximately 15 percent of the college’s research budget.