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Meet: Brent Nowlin

Electrical Operations Engineer
NASA Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, OH

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Who I Am
Similar to the role of engineers on any sci-fi movie, operation engineers are responsible for maintaining and running equipment. If the equipment fails to provide adequate performance, operations engineers are usually responsible for fixing it. To be more specific about my job, I am the lead operations engineer in a facility that tests the performance of medium- and large-scale gas turbines. A turbine is any device that converts the energy of moving air to mechanical (shaft) energy. A typical example of a turbine is a windmill. In the turbine facility, though, the turbines we test are used in gas turbine engines, such as those seen on a commercial airliner. The goal of testing the turbines is to find ways to increase their efficiency.

My job in the turbine facility is to ensure all instrumentation and control systems are functioning properly. In addition, the engineering team frequently makes modifications to both the facility itself and to the particular turbine we are testing. Modifications to this type of facility are quite common, as the technology is changing, along with requirements. The engineering team is also responsible for overseeing and conducting the research testing itself. Our turbine testing facility is among the most complex and unique in the world.

Career path
Ever since I was 9 years old, I decided I wanted to be an electrical engineer. I enjoyed math and science, but many careers use both math and science in the day-to-day duties. I decided that electrical engineering was the path for me when I discussed what I liked to do with my parents. I remember I like to play with motors and radios and things like that. So, I decided one Saturday morning that I wanted to be an electrical engineer. After that decision, I then took as much math and science as possible through high school.

My real career started while I was obtaining my BS degree in electrical engineering from the University of Toledo. During my junior and senior years, I worked part-time at a small computer engineering firm. This experience was quite valuable to me as I began my career at NASA Lewis Research Center. I began my NASA career working in a small turbine testing facility and five years later began modifying the larger turbine testing facility that I work in today. Along the way I earned my MS in electrical engineering from Cleveland State University.

I've had several influences in my life as it pertains to my career. My math and science teachers in high school were generally very good and encouraged me to pursue a career in engineering. I had several professors at the University of Toledo who were instrumental in preparing me for my eventual career at NASA. These professors taught that the knowledge an engineer had was not the most important aspect of his or her career - integrity and ethics combined with a person's knowledge to define who they were and the type of engineer they would become is the most important aspect. I would give this same advice to anyone wishing to be an engineer - there is far more to the career than just pulling in a paycheck that a person can live on. The extremely overused terms of hard work, diligence, and trustworthiness have to be present in a person if they are to be successful in their engineering career.

Likes / Dislikes
The day-to-day duties are pretty boring frequently. Luckily, this aspect of my job is pretty small. Most of the time, there is also something different that needs attention. We have been able to do things in the turbine testing facilities that no other company has been able to do. That is what I like the most - being able to be the first to do something. We also are able to work with a lot of new instrumentation and control systems. We call it "playing with new toys", but, obviously, the new equipment is much more than a toy. It all serves a very useful and important purpose here at NASA.

My wife and I have been married nearly 12 years. We've got two girls and two boys, ranging from 10 years old to just turned 5. I think there's at least one engineer and one veterinarian in the making among the kids. Speaking of veterinarians, we've got cats and dogs. My wife helps local animal adoption groups to find homes for puppies, kittens, dogs, cats, you name it. The kids keep us busy especially in the spring and summer with their baseball and softball.

My own hobbies (other than chasing the kids around) are working on different contraptions. My time is spent working on the house, cars, etc., and playing with different gizmos. I also like to do woodworking. Lastly, I teach technical courses at the local community college.


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