Nikos A. Gatsonis Is Named Director of Aerospace Engineering at WPI

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - Nikos A. Gatsonis of Newton, Mass., has been named director of the Aerospace Engineering Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Recently granted tenure and promoted to associate professor of mechanical engineering, he had been an assistant professor since 1994. He received the 1995 Morgan Distinguished Instructorship in Mechanical Engineering and the 1998-99 Norton/Saint Gobain Award in recognition of leadership in integrated graduate-undergraduate research.

A postdoctoral fellow in the Space Department at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, he earned 1991 Ph.D. and 1987 M.S. degrees in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has a 1986 M.S. degree in atmospheric science from the University of Michigan and a 1983 B.S. degree in physics from the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki in Macedonia, Greece.

He established WPI's Computational Gas and Plasmadynamics Laboratory with research that focuses on advanced spacecraft electric propulsion, including emerging micro-propulsion concepts and space experiments. His research program has received funding from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab for various Ballistic Missile Defense Organization space programs, the Department of Energy and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). His collaboration includes the electric propulsion group at NASA's Glenn Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He has contributed 20 articles to scientific journals and has presented more than 50 research papers at international conferences. A member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Technical Committee on Electric Propulsion since 1996, and of its Space Sciences committee from 1992 to 1996, he is the organizer of the electric propulsion sessions at the 36th AIAA/American Society of Mechanical Engineers/Society of Automotive Engineers/American Society for Engineering Education Joint Propulsion Conference, to be held in Huntsville, Ala., in July.

In 1995, he established WPI's membership in NASA's Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium (MSGC), and he continues to serve as WPI's affiliate representative. The MSGC provides support for undergraduate projects and graduate fellowships in aerospace engineering and offers undergraduate summer job opportunities with major aerospace companies and national laboratories.

Among the current highlights of WPI's participation is the design of a shuttle experiment that will demonstrate electric propulsion concepts, in cooperation with other universities of the Consortium.

"The Aerospace Engineering Program is the largest component of the Mechanical Engineering Department," Gatsonis said. "It includes six faculty members and offers degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. More than 100 undergraduates are pursuing the aerospace concentration, while more than 25 graduate students are pursuing M.S., five-year B.S./M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering with thesis work related to aerospace engineering."

The program offers a comprehensive education in aerospace and opens career opportunities both in mechanical and aerospace engineering fields, he noted. "The WPI Aerospace Engineering Program thrives by integrating quality research with undergraduate education," he said. "Research revolves around experimental aerodynamics, fluid/structure interactions and controls, space propulsion, microgravity fluid and combustion sciences."

The program receives significant funding from NASA, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Lab and the AFOSR, to name a few. Faculty collaborate with universities, research labs and industry at the national and international levels.

"Major qualifying projects (completed by all WPI students) allow us to bring the latest research efforts to the undergraduate level," Gatsonis said. "Our graduate and undergraduate students often work together to advance complex, state-of-the art aerospace science and technology projects. New space flight experiments are currently being designed and built to fly on the International Space Station and the Shuttle. Our students often complete project and thesis work at NASA centers."

Experimental facilities available for course, project and thesis work in aerospace include the Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, which houses a low-speed, low-turbulence wind tunnel facility; the Heat Transfer Laboratory, for studying the fluid dynamic and heat transfer characteristics of condensing films; the Hydrodynamics Laboratory, which houses a low-speed water tunnel and a water tank for the study of incompressible fluid flows; and the Aerospace Fluids Laboratory, with its low-speed, closed-return wind tunnel, an open-return wind tunnel, and a transient supersonic facility.

In addition, the aerospace program established the Discovery Classroom, an educational facility unique to WPI. It combines a state-of-the-art multimedia classroom with an adjoining experimental laboratory to create an environment that emphasizes an integrated approach to engineering education.

WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.