The Opportunity of a Lifetime

I was working on a long post about a hybrid rocket research project I was working on but one thing lead to another and that project is no more. Long story short, I wanted to study how the concentration of aluminum in a paraffin wax fuel grain affected the performance of the hybrid rocket motor from both a pure performance standpoint and also from a cost standpoint. I had worked on this project for months. I read a dozen or more journal articles relating to hybrid rocket motors, I designed a vertical test stand, and I started to work through all of the financials to fund the project.

To be able to stay at Olivet over the summer and conduct my research, I would need to be accepted into Olivet's summer research program. One requirement of that is a faculty advisor. A few professors immediately said they wouldn't advise my project because rockets weren't their field of expertise. Understandable. Frustrating for me but understandable. Then one professor said that he wanted to sit down and talk about my project. He agreed to advise my project so I could be accepted into Olivet's research program on the condition that I also get a technical advisor that actually knows a thing or two about rockets. So, I emailed a number of professors around the country seeing if they would advise my project.

To my surprise, I received an email almost immediately from Dr. Son of Purdue University. He informed me that they had already conducted the research I wanted to do as a part of a former student's PhD work. Bummer, but how awesome to hear that my idea was something that the industry was actually curious about! But his email didn't end there. He then said that if I sent him my resume he would consider me for an undergraduate research assistantship over the summer. How huge is that!?!?

Undergraduate research is one of, if not the, best ways to prove that you have the chops to be a PhD student and secure funding through a graduate research assistantship. What better way to prove to a professor that I'm a competent researcher than conducting research for them?

During this process, Dr. Heister, also from Purdue, also emailed me and sounded interested in having me in their lab over the summer. I informed both Dr. Son and Dr. Heister that I had applied to be in the SURF program at Purdue. SURF stands for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and is a paid summer research internship with faculty at Purdue. Because of the initial push from my professor at Olivet and the recommendations to the SURF program from Dr. Son and Dr. Heister, I was offered a position in the SURF program this summer! Obviously, I accepted it as soon as I calmed down.

I will get to spend my summer working in Zucrow labs at Purdue under Dr. Son and Dr. Gunduz with a graduate student 3D printing hybrid rocket fuel grains. Dr. Gunduz has created a 3D printer that is able of printing incredibly high viscosity fluids at low pressures with excellent accuracy. He demonstrated this by showing me a pirate ship that he had printed, sails and all, that couldn't have been more than two centimeters and was made of modeling clay. He printed modeling clay!! That's incredible! Now, I'll get to spend my summer using this incredible printer to print fuel grains with high concentrations of fuel additives, such as aluminum, and use various burners and test techniques to compare the printed fuel grains to traditional cast manufacturing techniques. I don't know much more about my project than that but I will let you know how it changes and develops as the summer goes on!

Long story short, a nudge for a professor landed me a research internship at Purdue where I will get to 3D print rocket fuel. Doesn't get much cooler than that.