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Meet: Russ Claus

a photo of Russ Claus

Aerospace Engineer

Chat Archive

Who I Am
My job title is Aerospace Engineer, but I'm really a problem solver. Engineering has a million big and small problems that need to be solved, and I enjoy the intellectual challenge of researching and (hopefully) solving these problems. Most of our problems have no immediate answer.

Currently, I'm researching how to design gas turbine engines more efficiently. A gas turbine engine (like those on commercial jets) can require up to seven years to design and test. This means that it can take a long time to design a new aircraft and, as a consequence, new technologies that increase travel speed or reduce emissions will not be available for many years. I'm exploring new computer technologies such as neural networks and genetic algorithms to greatly reduce this design time. The challenge of this work is always fun.

My Career Journey
The moon landings in late 1969 and the early 70's are what "hooked" me on engineering. I have always wanted to be part of a forward-looking organization; one that captures the imagination and brings out the best in people. For me, being an engineer at NASA provided that opportunity.

In college, I had the good luck to have Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon) as an instructor. I was also assigned to NASA as an engineering co-op. I worked on a wide range of projects from large wind turbines (a project NASA managed for DOE) to rocket thrust chambers. The variety and challenge "hooked" me.

After I graduated from college (University of Cincinnati), I researched low emission combustors while obtaining a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering (University of Toledo). I won a NASA research fellowship to study the numerical modeling of turbulent flows, but I was just trying to understand how to burn fuel efficiently. I worked five years as a Project Manager where I explored how to get people to work together.

I currently lead a software development team working with Internet-based technologies to reduce the design cycle time for gas turbines. We look at advanced simulation techniques (like Genetic Algorithms) and use the latest software (Object-Oriented Databases, Java, CORBA, etc.).

In January, I completed my MBA at Cleveland State University. It was helpful because government reforms are pushing for more market-based operations. For an engineer, the coursework was interesting because it provided a strategic way to view any organization. Business lacks the hard and exact answers that are the stock and trade of engineering.

Likes/Dislikes About Career
The positive aspects of my job are: 1. A challenging work environment; 2. Freedom and flexibility to explore various different technologies; 3. Working with a great group of people; and, finally, 4. Life-long learning. Some of the negative aspects: 1. This is not the highest paying career; and 2. Not all your efforts are successful.

Working on the leading edge means sometimes falling off that edge. Occasionally, projects are canceled despite your best efforts. There are always some aspects of your work that you cannot completely control, but if one project fails, there are always new opportunities.

I could have accepted job offers that paid more money, but, for me, the constant challenge and learning of my current job provides much greater rewards. When I was younger, I observed that my father didn't enjoy his job, but he was well paid. I love my work and I sometimes think that I would pay NASA to do this work (but let's keep this a secret).

Advice
As a child, I fired-off model rockets and built model planes. In high school, I rebuilt car engines and restored an old Mercedes 190SL. I read voraciously and always have. These activities taught me to study a problem before trying to solve it. My current job follows this same approach.

Whatever you do, chose a career that you will enjoy. When you enjoy your work, you bring an infectious enthusiasm to the workplace. Success will naturally follow.

Personal Info
I am married with two stepchildren and live in Strongsville, Ohio. I enjoy fishing, skiing and hiking. Lake Erie has some of the best fishing in the country. I recently hiked into the Grand Canyon on my summer vacation.

When I retire from NASA, I hope to live in the mountains and use advanced computer algorithms to pick the best investment strategies.

 
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