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Research off to a flying start

Using bumblebee aerodynamics to enhance flying robots and research to improve aircraft engine reliability has won two PhD students from UNSW Canberra Amelia Earhart Fellowships.

Priyanka Dhopade and Sheila Tobing, from the School of Engineering and Information Technology, have both received $10,000 from the fellowship, which helps women pursuing advanced studies in aerospace-related sciences and engineering achieve their research goals.

Tobing’s research is taking cues from the flying abilities of bumblebees and hoverflies, to further enhance Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs), which are machines capable of performing surveillance, reconnaissance and other tasks in situations deemed to be hostile to humans.

The flying and wing characteristics of these insects are desirable properties for MAVs, and Tobing will be looking at how to apply these characteristics to the machines.

“Bumblebees have the ability to fly while carrying heavy loads, and hoverflies are known for their excellent ability to fly stationary at a particular altitude and position,” she explains.

Dhopade’s research is looking at improving aircraft engine reliability, focusing on the fluctuating pressure loads acting on aircraft engine blades.

Such loads bring about “failure and cracks, and life reduction of the blades,” Dhopade explains.

“To improve engine reliability, it’s necessary to understand the loads acting on these components”.

“I hope my research will aid in a safer and more efficient approach to the operation and maintenance of today’s gas turbine engines,” she says.

Both students will use the fellowship funding to travel overseas later this year, where they will undertake further research and gain industry experience.

Once their theses are submitted, Dhopade aims to work with Rolls-Royce, and Tobing plans to return to her home in Indonesia, where she hopes to contribute to the development of aerospace study and the aircraft industry.

The Amelia Earhart fellowship is awarded to 35 students around the world annually, by the Zonta International, which works towards women’s advancement.

Media Contact: Cassie Chorn | UNSW Media Office | 02 9385 5405

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