Feeling the heat in the START lab

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Graduate mechanical engineering student Shawn Siroka has received a 2016 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) International Gas Turbine Institute (IGTI) scholarship. The award recognizes Siroka as a student of high academic standing involved in gas turbine research.

Siroka is working in the Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine (START) lab using thin film heat flux gauges to measure heat transfer inside the turbine test rig after it has warmed up and runs continuously or in the "steady state."  The START lab is one half of the Turbine Heat Transfer and Aerodynamics Group. The Experimental and Computational Convection Laboratory (ExCCL) makes up the other half and conducts studies of fundamental turbulence and applied convective heat transfer.

The START lab houses a large gas turbine engine, similar to those that power jet aircraft or land-based turbines that produce electricity. It is so similar in fact, that it is capable of testing true-scale turbine hardware and running for hours on end to simulate the actual conditions a plane engine might encounter in the real world. The focus of START is on increasing turbine efficiencies through improved turbine cooling methods.

"We're coating the blades of the turbine with these very, very thin gauges that will enable us to measure the energy changes in the blades as the engine runs in the steady state," Siroka said. This type of gauge has never been used in the START rig and Siroka said he is excited to see how they perform.

"We are studying the relationship between the jet engine's built-in cooling features and the turbines. We want to know what is happening there so that we can build more durable blades and develop predictive methods to understand the life expectancy of the blades."

The work with the gauges is a continuation of research Siroka undertook as an undergraduate working with Steve Lynch, Penn State professor of mechanical engineering.

After graduating from Penn State with his undergraduate degree in May, Siroka completed a 10-week internship at aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney in its Turbine Aerodynamics Group. He then returned to Penn State to join the START lab and pursue his graduate degree.

"I like the novelty of research," said Siroka. "It has two parts. In the first, you have to learn all that has been done before on the subject. In the second, you have to devise how to push those limits to see where you can go. It's exciting."

Siroka said he also enjoys the willingness of senior engineers to share what they know with younger people like him.

"I really like how collaborative research is. You can go to a conference and meet top experts and they are willing to tell you what they know. If you are willing to learn, people are more than happy to teach you," he said.

The ASME-IGTI scholarship is not Siroka's first academic recognition. As an undergraduate, he received the Dr. John P. Karidis Award for Research Achievement in Mechanical Engineering, which is annually awarded to an undergraduate in mechanical engineering at Penn State. As a Shuman Scholar, he was able to undertake a long-term research project in mechanical engineering. Siroka was part of a team that won a first place Engineering Design Showcase Award in fall 2015 and he took part in UTREE (Undergraduate Teaching and Research Experiences in Engineering). The Penn State program aims to foster the professional skills and enrich the research experience of undergraduates in the College of Engineering.

Last Updated December 08, 2016