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E-news Online February 2013

Rolls-Royce Fellowships Support Graduate Student Excellence

By Erik Moyer

The University of Virginia and Rolls-Royce are involved in an innovative and strategic partnership to set the new world standard for power systems in aerospace, energy and marine applications.

As part of that partnership, the Rolls-Royce Doctoral Student Fellows Award was recently established to support exceptional Ph.D. students in pursuit of research and scholarship on subjects of interest to Rolls-Royce, the University of Virginia and their partners. This has had a significant impact on U.Va.’s Engineering School, with Senior Associate Dean Barry Johnson noting that “The Rolls-Royce partnership has already enabled the School to attract more than $8 million in external research funding for projects associated with the partnership.”

Left to Right: Gregory Simms and Professor Harsha Chelliah

Each Rolls-Royce Doctoral Student Fellow will be supported for up to three years and receive an annual stipend of $30,000, full tuition and fees, health insurance, and an annual travel budget of $2,500. This year the grants were awarded to Gregory Simms, a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Marybeth Parker, a graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Simms works with Professor Harsha Chelliah, an expert in combustion, on research to develop and validate soot kinetic models in high-pressure conditions similar to those of mid- to large-size gas turbine engines. “There currently are not a lot of environmental restrictions on aircraft engines, like there are for automobile engines, so this is not an area where a lot of research has been done, and much improvement can be made” Simms explains.

Parker is working with Professor Robert Kelly in the Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering on investigating localized corrosion of advanced aluminum alloys. Specifically, she’s studying the intergranular corrosion of Alcoa-developed AA 2060, an aluminum-copper-lithium alloy with a significantly high strength-to-weight ratio. “The alloy is interesting because variations in the heat treatment cause it to transition from low localized corrosion resistance to high localized corrosion resistance,” Parker says. “Studying the transition to good corrosion resistance will help Alcoa improve the performance of their aluminum-copper-lithium products and produce data that will give industry more confidence when deciding to utilize the newer alloys.”

Left to Right: Marybeth Parker and Professor Robert Kelly

Both students appreciate the interest their work has generated. “The fellowship was a very happy surprise to me” Simms remarks. “I initially did not apply for it, assuming I was not really qualified without an engineering background.” Upon graduating from the University of Michigan’s undergraduate math department, he taught high school math for three years. Simms then earned a master’s degree in applied math in 2011 and worked a year at Piedmont Virginia Community College before pursuing his doctorate.

Simms and Parker also appreciate the support they’ve received from their advisors. “I feel so lucky to be working with Professor Chelliah,” Simms says. “He has already shown great patience with me, and he is an excellent teacher.” Of Professor Kelly, Parker says, “He is an excellent advisor for this project because of his experience in localized corrosion.”

Opportunities provided by the Rolls-Royce fellowship have inspired the two recipients. “I want to contribute to the scientific community through presenting and publishing my research at U.Va.” Parker says. “The travel stipend has already been beneficial to me, as it allowed me to visit the Alcoa Technical Center and learn about the alloy I am studying. Whether I decide to continue working in academia or join industry after I finish my degree, I hope to have a positive impact in my workplace and make a difference in my field.”

 “When I first applied to this program,” says Simms, “I wasn’t really sure what I hoped to get out of it. But now, every time I get to hear a talk about exciting work being done in the field, I can't wait to get to that point myself.”

The Rolls-Royce partnership includes creation of two major research centers; support for faculty, students, workforce development initiatives and research; and manufacturing training.