After three decades, the Turbomachinery Laboratory has a new director.
Eric Petersen, Ph.D., a 10-year veteran of the Turbo Lab, succeeded Dara Childs, Ph.D., who retired in January. Petersen, who has been working in the gas turbine and propulsion industry for nearly 30 years, is the Nelson-Jackson Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University. The Turbo Lab is the center of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and part of The Texas A&M University System.
Petersen took some time to answer questions from Pumps & Systems leading into the Sept. 18-20 Turbomachinery and Pump Symposia, to be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.
What was your first job in the industry, and how did it shape your career?
My first job in the industry was with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in West Palm Beach, Florida. I started there as an intern during the summer between my first and second years of graduate school, where I was working on my Master of Science. I had a special Pratt & Whitney fellowship. They hired me after completing my master’s degree, and I worked there for three years before returning to graduate school to pursue my doctorate degree at Stanford.
It shaped my career in three major ways. First, I got to work on the design and analysis of advanced jet and rocket propulsion technology firsthand. Second, I had a great supervisor and mentor who taught me a great deal about engineering and the importance of communication. Last, since it was a technology development position, I got to do in-depth and applied research, and I was able to go to conferences and write and present technical papers. This combined experience made me want to pursue a doctorate degree.
What does being the Turbo Lab director mean to you?
Being the Turbo Lab director means that I can contribute in some way to the continuation of the strong legacy that the Turbo Lab has in the continuing education of engineers in industry and to the facilitation of state-of-the-art research that leads to new technology, scientific knowledge and the education of graduate students.
How much did Dr. Childs influence you and your career?
Dr. Childs was instrumental in convincing me to come to Texas A&M University. As the Turbo Lab director at that time, he facilitated everything that was needed for me to set up a world-class research facility at the Turbomachinery Laboratory. Without Dr. Childs’ initial and continuing support, I don’t think my academic career would be where it is today.
What does a workday in the life of the Turbo Lab director encompass?
A typical workday, when I am not traveling, involves a combination of director duties and mechanical engineering professor duties. These range from interacting with the Turbo Lab director of operations and the Turbo Lab staff on matters related to the symposia and the research consortium, among other things, to teaching a 75-minute lecture for my current A&M course, to meeting with a team of my graduate students to discuss their latest research and to solve any related problems. Computer work, reading, and any Turbo Lab director tasks that do not involve face-to-face meetings get done in the evenings, after dinner with my family.
What advice do you have for people entering the industry?
My advice to young engineers entering the industry would be to find a position where you work on something you love and also love the type of work that is needed to do it.
What are some goals you hope to accomplish in the near future in this role?
One of my major, near-term goals is to learn what is done behind the scenes at the Turbo Lab to make things work so well for the symposia, short courses and research consortium. This includes learning firsthand what the Turbo Lab director’s role is in all of these activities. Another goal is to better integrate the various aspects of the Turbo Lab, including both the symposia and academic sides and also the various members of the Turbo Lab ranging from faculty and students to Turbo Lab staff and the many advisory committee members from industry.
What does the Turbo Lab have planned for late 2018 and going into 2019?
This year (at TPS), there will be a combination of world-class technical presentations and an exhibit floor with booths and displays representing over 350 companies. We are currently assessing the results of the recent 2nd Asia Turbomachinery and Pump Symposium (ATPS) that was held in Singapore this past March (in order) to formulate our plans for the next installment of the ATPS.
We have several short courses coming up as well, including one on Machinery Vibration & Rotodynamics in January 2019 and the Compressor Operations for 21st Century Users (CCOPS) course in March 2019, among others. Of course, the Turbo Lab and its faculty members will have several graduate students defend their Master of Science and doctorate degree theses in the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters.
What do you like to do away from work?
Nothing too special, really. When not at work, I like to spend time with my wife and daughter (when she is at home) and go to an occasional movie or catch up on a good series on Netflix.