Academics

Aerospace engineer takes fluid approach for creative problem-solving

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To Mark Miller, assistant professor of aerospace engineering, engineering is about imagination.

“It’s one of the most useful tools for an engineer,” Miller said. “We can never perfectly replicate conditions in which our designs will operate, so we have to use creativity to apply advanced concepts to real-world problems.”

Mark Miller, assistant professor of aerospace engineering. Credit: Penn State College of Engineering / Penn StateCreative Commons

Miller uses a variety of strategies — from sophisticated computer simulations to physical experiments to theoretical explorations — to exercise that creativity in his research. He focuses on the interaction of fluids with rotating, unsteady large-scale systems, such as wind turbines and rotorcraft. 

“Fluid dynamics impacts our lives in many ways,” Miller said. “The complexity of fluid movement provides a wide range of applications and avenues for further study.”

Several of these applications are being explored in his lab. Miller and his team have focused on construction of a new compressed-air wind tunnel, which will allow for the study of large systems on a manageable laboratory scale, according to Miller. The team is also pursuing the development of flexible sensor arrays for detecting when a rotating blade stops producing lift. 

In another project, Miller is investigating the operation of wind turbines in different configurations — for isolated turbines and those housed in larger farm systems. To better understand how the implementation of a turbine affects its performance, Miller and his team are creating simplified models of real airflow around a turbine. Integrating factors such as turbine type and environmental conditions into the models can help the researchers further explore the behavior of the turbines.

“To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase the use of wind energy, we must continue to improve our engineering modeling and design tools,” Miller said.

Miller’s appreciation for solving problems with creative engineering extends to both the lab and the classroom, he said.

“My goal as a researcher and educator is to share my fundamental passion for solving complex engineering problems,” Miller said. “Abilities like making approximations, cleverly bending rules, visualizing outcomes and extrapolating help me and my students to explore exciting possibilities.”

Miller joined Penn State in 2019 after a postdoctoral research appointment at Princeton University, where he earned his doctoral degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 2018. He earned his bachelor and master of science, both in mechanical engineering and in 2011 and 2013 respectively, at the University of Kentucky.

Last Updated February 09, 2021

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