Engineering student charts course with NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Erin Cassidy Hendrick
April 09, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Andrew Scott White, an undergraduate student majoring in mechanical engineering at Penn State, has been awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Providing the foundation for his graduate career, this prestigious honor is allowing White to pursue his passion for technologies enabling electrically powered aircraft at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) beginning in the fall of 2020. 

A headshot of an undergraduate student.

Andrew White, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Penn State.

IMAGE: Andrew White

His journey to graduate school began at Penn State as a Schreyer Honors College student, where White completed his thesis in the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Experimental and Computational Convection Laboratory (ExCCL). The work, under Stephen Lynch, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the Shuman Family Early Career Professor, illuminated a new pathway for him. 

“The research component of the Schreyer Honors program led me to graduate school,” White said. “I was able to conduct independent research and generate my own data. It was a great introduction to research on a broad scale, which a lot of people don’t know much about until they actually get to graduate school.”

The experience proved transformative and now, White is committed to earning his doctorate in aerospace engineering. 

“I feel like I know what I’m getting into and I know that I really enjoy the research aspect,” he said.

In ExCCL, Lynch and his team of researchers conduct studies into turbulence and convective heat transfer. In particular, their work explores introducing new capabilities enabled by additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing. 

White’s research project, “Performance Analysis of Thermosyphon-embedded Heat Sinks Designed for Additive Manufacturing,” explored new ways to mitigate heat within devices such as high-performance computers, electric vehicles and smartphone batteries.

“Thermal management is vitally important to the operation of all modern electronic devices,” he said. “Additive manufacturing is becoming an attractive option to build novel heat exchanger designs. It’s possible now to create more complex designs.”

In White’s approach, by additively manufacturing heat sinks, the components can strive for the highest heat mitigation possible. He designed small pipes that were embedded into the fins of the heat sink. These heat pipes hold liquids that, when exposed to high temperatures, rise to the top, evaporate and then begin their cycle back down the pipe. Providing a pathway for the heat to escape, albeit in an extremely small scale as in White’s project, was only feasible with the intricate and complex manufacturing that 3D printing allows. 

“While a method like this will add cost, it can be useful in military applications that aim for performance above all considerations, like satellites,” he said.

After successfully contributing to ExCCL’s mission, White is now hoping to apply his Penn State education and research experience to a new, uncharted area. 

“I want to focus my research at MIT on propulsion and airframe systems, with the goal of integrating electrification into aircrafts,” he said.

White will be contributing his talents to the Center for Cryogenic High-Efficiency Electrical Technologies for Aircraft (CHEETA), a NASA-funded project that aims to develop a novel approach for an all-electric airplane. 

While the technological challenge is an appealing one, White explained he will find his true motivation in the potential impacts the work could have in the real world. By contributing knowledge to help the aviation industry lessen their dependence on fossil fuels, he hopes to contribute to a brighter future.

“I’m very passionate about the positive environmental impact electrified aircrafts could have,” he said. “We will need solutions like that to help the world.”


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Last Updated April 10, 2020