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Meet L. Danielle Koch

photo of  Danielle Koch

Mechanical/Aerospace Engineer, Acoustics Branch
NASA Glenn Research Center

What I Do
I am a Research Engineer in the Acoustics Branch at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH ( http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/5900/5940/ ). I am one member of a team of engineers who are working to make jet engines quieter. If you have ever been near an airport you know how loud the airplanes are when they take off and land. As air travel becomes more and more popular, airports are becoming busier and the neighborhoods around the airports suffer from increased noise pollution. Many communities spend lots of money to improve the quality of life for the people who live near airports through programs that provide sound insulation to their homes. Some airports are helping these communities by also enacting stricter noise limitations. Imagine what life would be like if the airplanes didn’t make so much noise in the first place. That is exactly what we are doing here in the Acoustics Branch at NASA Glenn.

Before you can make an airplane quieter, you must first find out what part is making the most noise. At NASA Glenn we are concentrating on two main parts of the engine that we know make a lot of noise—the fan at the front of the engine and the jet at the back of the engine. We are trying to understand how noise is generated and are trying to redesign these parts to make the engine run more quietly. We do this in two ways—experimentally and computationally.

Experiments are conducted here at NASA Glenn in two state-of-the art facilities—the 9x15 Wind Tunnel( http://facilities.grc.nasa.gov/9x15/index.html ) and the Aeroacoustic Propulsion Laboratory ( http://facilities.grc.nasa.gov/aapl/ ). In these experiments aerodynamic measurements are taken of the airflow through the fans and jets with pressure and temperature probes, as well as non-intrusive measurement systems (lasers). Acoustic measurements are also taken microphones placed around the test article.

We use Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to calculate the flow through virtual models of the fans and jets. CFD is a way that computers are used to solve the fundamental equations of fluid motion. We also use computer programs to calculate and the noise coming from the engine. We then compare the calculated results (predictions) to the experimental results. Sometimes we compare experimental results to predictions to prove the theory is correct. Sometimes we use predictions to decide what to test next.

Which brings us to my part —I spend my day working at a computer to generate the aerodynamic predictions for fans and jets that other engineers use to generate the acoustic predictions. There are many things that I do to generate an aerodynamic prediction for a jet, for example. First, our team decides to study a particular nozzle. Nozzle hardware, like that shown in the picture below, is built, installed in a facility, and tested. I am given a computer file containing a description of the nozzle surface (coordinates), which I use to create a virtual model of a portion of the nozzle, like that shown in the next picture. That model is actually a grid or mesh used for the flow calculations. I then create other necessary computer files describing the nozzle and the flow conditions before running the computer program that calculates the properties of the flow field. When the calculation is complete, I often create charts of my results, some of which look like that shown in the third picture. I then give my results to someone else who uses them as input into an acoustic code. After we are finished we draw conclusions from our results and publish technical reports that document our findings. Often we present our findings at local, national, and international technical meetings.

Real Nozzle Hardware

real nozzle hardware photo

Computational Grid of Nozzle Hardware

computational grid picture

Calculated Aerodynamic Results

Aerodynamic computations

How I got here
I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA as the oldest of four children. My parents are both teachers and strongly encouraged us to get a good education. I always got good grades in school, and English and Science were my favorite classes. It wasn’t until the summer of my junior year in high school that I even considered going to college to become an engineer. I attended a one-week summer camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania called “Challenge”
(Hey, check it out—as of this writing the program is still offered: http://www.stvincent.edu/academics/special/challenge.html ).
During that week a course in aviation was taught and at the end of the course the instructor, who was also a private pilot, took us for a ride in a small 4-seater airplane. During one flight I was even allowed to co-pilot for a while. It was so exciting!! For the first time I really understood how science and math could be combined to do some really cool things. I went home from the program and I distinctly remember telling my parents (out on our back porch) that I wanted to become an aerospace engineer. After my parents were convinced that I was serious, they helped me to apply to schools with programs in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. I decided to attend Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. My tuition was paid through a combination of scholarships, loans, grants, and contributions from my parents and me. I participated in the Work-Study program at CWRU that helped me earn both money and experience—I worked in one of the labs in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. I also spent one summer in college as an engineering intern at General Motors in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Fluid and Thermal Engineering Sciences in 1990 and immediately after graduation I was thrilled to come to work at NASA Glenn as a Test Operations Engineer. As a Test Operations Engineer, I worked with a team of people to conduct aerodynamic experiments on jet engine components (turbines). While I was working full-time, I went back to Case Western Reserve University part-time to earn my Masters Degree in Fluid and Thermal Engineering Sciences. This time, NASA paid my tuition. Through my thesis work, I was introduced to the field of computational fluid dynamics. After graduation in 1998, I transferred into the Acoustics Branch.

Personal background
I had a lot of encouragement as a young student that really helped to get me where I am today. I have many people to thank for that—my parents, family, teachers, friends and co-workers. Although I didn’t know it at the time, one of the best things my parents did for me was to send me to an all-girls high school. I said “send me,” because it was definitely not my idea. None of my grade-school friends were going there, and I was just plain mad that my pleas to attend another co-ed school were seemingly ignored. Not soon after I started school, though, I realized my parents made the right decision and really enjoyed going there.

I attended St. Benedict Academy in Pittsburgh from my freshman till my junior year in high school. The Academy closed due to declining enrollment, and I had to transfer to North Catholic High School for my senior year. North Catholic was co-ed, and at the time there were more boys than girls there—it was quite a transition. While I received an excellent education at both schools, I believe that the time that I spent at St. Benedict was crucial to my eventual engineering success.

Having attended both an all-girls and a co-ed high school I can attest to the power of peer pressure. I believe the confidence I now have stems from the time I spent learning in an all-girls environment. This might not be true for everyone, but it made a tremendous difference in my life. I think I was more willing as a student to participate more fully in my classes without the pressure to fit into any stereotypes.

You need to have confidence so that you can overcome the obstacles that will come in your way. Obstacles come in many different forms and at many different times—sometimes you may have trouble in an important class, sometimes you might have trouble finding ways to pay your way through school, sometimes you may not have anyone to cheer you on. It is important to hang in there and try to overcome these things in your way. The projects that we work on here at NASA are ones that have not been solved yet. It takes confidence to try new approaches and to convince others that, even though you aren’t 100 percent sure if your ideas will work, that they are at least worth the try. If everything you try works out—great, it is time to celebrate. But more often than not, we learn most from our failures and confidence helps us to pick ourselves up and try again when at first we don’t succeed.

Outside of work, faith and family are most important to me. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband and several young children who keep us very, very busy. I work part-time now that I have a growing family. Keeping a balance between my work and my family is the biggest challenge I now face. Raising our children ourselves at home is something important to us, and my husband and I have been fortunate to have careers that are flexible enough to allow us to arrange our work schedules to do that. You can be an engineer and a mother, too!

Advice
Take time to reflect on what you like to do, what you are good at, and try to think how these things can be combined into a career. It will be easy to be enthusiastic about your job if you are doing things you like to do. Take every opportunity to learn about different careers. Work as an intern, volunteer, or co-op. As you can see from my example, a little awareness can change your life forever. The internet can be a great source of information. Use it to learn about careers that may interest you. Sometimes your hobbies can give you a clue to the types of careers you might like. I’ve enjoyed all types of arts and crafts since ever since I was a child- crochet, painting ceramics, sewing, and making wreathes. Through crafts, I got to learn how to put things together, so it is no surprise to me now that engineering is so appealing.

If you are in grade school or high school and think maybe (just maybe) you may want to be an engineer, I strongly encourage you to take all the science and math classes in high school that you can. You should be taking physics and calculus by your senior year so that you will be prepared for the classes you will be required to take in college. All the engineers I know use a computer, so it will help to take as many classes as you can that can help you to become familiar with programming and using various applications. Engineering is definitely more than math, science, and computers—all of the things you learn in school can be used at work as an engineer. Skills you learning in English will help you to write better technical reports and give better presentations. Classes in art or woodshop can teach creativity and develop your hands-on skills. The fun you have playing in school sports or in the band will help you to be good at working with others in a team. Life is about learning, and learning doesn’t end when you graduate.

If you are a newly graduated engineer and think that someday you may want to have a family, I encourage you to find out as much as you can about flexible job schedules and maternity/paternity leave policies as early as you possibly can. Some jobs are more flexible than others. Telecommuting is one way to add flexibility to your work schedule, but not all jobs are well suited for a telecommuting arrangement. If you want to take off a lot of time when your child is born, you may have to save your vacation time years in advance. A little planning can make a big difference.

If you are a parent or teacher, please help the children in your life recognize their own talents and to explore careers that use these talents. There is room for everyone in the field of aeronautics and space, just not for those who are good in math and science. People who enjoy working with their hands could look into pursuing careers in the trades—machinists, electronics technicians, mechanics, and electricians are just a few jobs that are so important to the work we do here at NASA. Others may excel at technical writing, public relations, management, or accounting.

It has been very exciting to work at NASA. I am honored to work with such a group of talented people here at Glenn. It is very rewarding to be able to contribute to the research on these challenging projects while balancing my responsibilities both here at work and with my family at home. I think NASA is a special place that really helps to broaden our knowledge of the wonders on this planet and beyond, while making our lives a little better (and a little more quiet).

 
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