Faculty Focus on Professor Jeffrey Sutton
Each month, we highlight our talented faculty who continue to attract the best and brightest engineering students and whose insights and research keep us at the leading edge of innovation and discovery. They are leaders in engineering practice, sought after by industry, government and the broader community.
What is the focus of your research and why is it significant?
I direct the Turbulence and Combustion Research Laboratory and we focus on using advanced laser diagnostic measurement techniques to understand the underlying physics and chemistry within turbulent flow and combustion environments, with relevance to energy and environmental applications. Specifically, we are interested in turbulent, multi-phase, and reactive flows because they underpin the majority of energy-conversion systems and environmental processes that we encounter in our daily lives. Our natural world and our “engineered” world all follow the same fundamental laws and can be described by a common set of mathematical equations. However, many of these processes are very complex (described by non-linear partial differential equations for you mathematical types) and thus are impossible to solve analytically and quite difficult to predict numerically. Thus, we develop and deploy state-of-the-art laser-based measurement techniques in complex and harsh environments to glean out the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how” of the rate-controlling processes that govern systems such as internal combustion and diesel engines, power-generating gas turbines, aircraft engines and pollutant dispersal in the atmosphere. Finally, we use our measurements to work collaboratively with numerical scientists to assess current turbulence and combustion models and provide guidance on the development of physically based engineering models.
Why should a prospective student consider mechanical or aerospace engineering?
Mechanical and aerospace engineering offer students a chance to explore the nuances of many of the advanced systems that they use every day. Both disciplines offer students the opportunity to engage in design, theory, numerical work and direct experimentation. There are numerous research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students, so students will gain the proper mix of theoretical background and “hands on” experience they need to go out and make a difference after graduation.
What do you like most about your job?
First and foremost, our research involves lasers and fire, so what is there not to like? I like being around the energy that defines an academic environment. For example, I thoroughly enjoy seeing the evolution of graduate students within my research lab – starting with wild-eyed eagerness and culminating in the satisfaction of successful research and dissemination to the research community at large.
What advice would you give students considering a career in engineering?
Think about what you want to do for a career – not just a job after graduation – but a long-term career. Once you identify what really interests you, examine whether a degree in engineering and an engineering career is coincident with your ambitions and goals.
Tell us about one hobby or interest you have outside of work?
Outside of turbulence, combustion, and lasers, I really like spending time with my wife and kids. My kids are 6 and 9 so they are at a great age to hang out with, have fun with, and be challenged by! We all love watching college football together, so that is a lot of fun.