Graduate STEM Fellow Profile

Emily Burtnett

Project Title: Initiating New Science Partnerships in Rural Education (INSPIRE)
Thesis: A Comparison of VOF Simulations with Experimental Data for Droplet Impact on a Dry Surface
College/University: Mississippi State University
Research Advisor: David S. Thompson
Degree Sought: M.S., Aerospace Engineering
Department: Department of Aerospace Engineering
Research Focus: Computational fluid dynamics, microfluidics, near-surface and free-surface flows, anti-ice coatings for aerodynamic surfaces
Teaching Partner(s): Johnathon DuFour

Description of Research

The accretion and adhesion of ice on surfaces is an issue of great concern in the field of aviation. Even light, hardly visible appearance of ice on aerodynamic surfaces or airflow measurement instruments can have a tremendous effect on the safety and performance of a modern plane. In-flight icing generally occurs when supercooled water droplets impinge on the surfaces of aircraft components and freeze. The existing thermal de-icing systems can be generally distinguished into systems, where the boundary layer of the ice is fluent due to heating and the accreted ice then detaches from the surface, and fully evaporative systems, where ice deposits on the surfaces are completely evaporated. In the context of a predominantly electric aircraft, bleed-less de-icing systems for aircraft are in vogue. Since future electrical de-icing systems, such as electro-thermal, electro-mechanical or hybrid systems, will necessarily require reduced energy consumption, the support of these systems by means of relevant coatings will be beneficial for overall de-icing performance. Functional and respectively ice phobic coatings can be cited as an example of passive anti-icing possibilities, avoiding ice formation on aerodynamic surfaces. The development of such coatings requires the initial acquisition of a profound knowledge of the physical-mechanical behavior of ice accreting to solid surfaces. In this context, investigation of droplet splash behavior on dry surfaces and wet films, as well as icing by so-called super-cooled droplets, is of major relevance. The development of anti-icing coatings involves the investigation of microscopic effects, such as droplet splashing or water crystallization. Those phenomena are closely linked to surface properties such as wetting behavior, chemical functionality and roughness. As there are many parameters to be envisaged for proper coating development, there is a strong need for inexpensive and rapid testing of the icing-related properties of different ice-resistant surfaces. As part of this effort, numerical simulations will be performed to evaluate the effects of different surface properties thereby reducing the required test matrix.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience

I have developed various research-based lesson plans to deliver to high school geometry students, taking them beyond the textbooks, allowing them to hone investigative and critical thinking skills and see STEM in a new light. For example, students used a Proscope HR (a high resolution handheld microscope) to investigate water droplet interaction with various surfaces. After seeing a demonstration of water droplet impacts to observe the difference between superhydrophobic, hydrophobic, and hydrophilic surfaces, students learned about contact angles, spread and height and how they are used to describe droplet behavior. Students were introduced to the concept of wettability and discovered that the smoothness of a surface changes the way water droplets behave when they come in contact with that surface. Using this knowledge, students collected mathematical measurements of water droplets on various surfaces and made scientific conclusions. This led to the realization that not all surfaces are suitable for use on aircraft wings if icing is to be prevented.

This inquiry lesson gave students the opportunity to explore STEM and discover how technology and geometric principles are applied in real-world engineering research they can relate to. Knowledge invokes confidence in the student which allows them to interact intelligently and compete in today’s technology-dominated society. Our youth need to know that knowledge can take them far and lead to success. In my lessons, I strive to demonstrate the importance of STEM principles and help students to further develop their problem-solving skills.