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AE alumnus David Carroll receives AIAA award


Debra Levey Larson

David Carroll
David L. Carroll

David L. Carroll, a three-degree University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign alumnus, received the 2021 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Plasmadynamics and Lasers Award. It recognizes outstanding contributions to the understanding of the physical properties and dynamical behavior of matter in the plasma state and lasers as related to need in aeronautics and astronautics.

Carroll is the president and co-founder of CU Aerospace, working in high-energy lasers, space propulsion, nanosat fabrication, advanced materials, astrodynamics, and other advanced aerospace technologies. He also co-founded Autonomic Materials, Inc., which is focused on the commercialization of self-healing paints and coatings. 

He is active in numerous areas, including high-energy lasers, plasma-driven systems, dissociating and plasma flows, non-equilibrium flows, nozzles, optics, electrically driven in-space micro-propulsion systems, plasma-assisted combustion, and plasma-actuated flow control technology.  He is a co-inventor of the hybrid electric oxygen-iodine laser system, the exciplex pumped alkali laser, the micro-cavity discharge thruster, the fiber-fed pulsed plasma thruster, and most recently the cyclotronic arc plasma actuator for aircraft flow control.

Laser system image
Electric Oxygen-Iodine Laser (ElectricOIL) system that produced a beam with 500 Watts of continuous power

“I met David Carroll when he was a Ph.D. student of Professor Lee Sentman, a colleague of mine when I was the director for the USAF SDIO Space Laser technologies, and we have worked consistently together ever since,” said James Horkovich, a senior principal scientist at Aegis Technologies (a BlueHalo company), as well as an AIAA Fellow and Distinguished Lecturer, who nominated Carroll for the award. “The hybrid electric oxygen-iodine laser system success is an extremely notable achievement as the original basic concept was first put forward nearly 40 years ago, but researchers around the world had failed to produce a laser until Dr. Carroll and his colleagues tackled the problem. The EOIL system shows promise for significant improvement over the latest versions of COIL in terms of laser output power per unit weight and logistic simplicity.”

single thruster
Time exposure of a single Fiber-fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT) pulse showing conical tip and cathode spots.

Over his more than 30-year career thus far, Carroll has published over 160 papers and holds 12 patents and patent applications in the multidisciplinary fields of high-energy discharge and gas lasers, space propulsion systems, plasma-driven devices, optics, fluid dynamics, laser physics, and genetic algorithms, which are computational search and optimization techniques based upon Darwinian survival of the fittest concepts.

“GAs are particularly good at finding optimal solutions in highly multi-modal parameter spaces,” Horkovich said. “Carroll developed a versatile and robust GA front-end driver code written in Fortran and became the first to use a GA for laser optimization and the estimation of undetermined chemical rate constants.  Dr. Carroll began distributing the Fortran GA driver in 1995.  His driver has since been utilized internationally and referenced over 750 times.  Of particular note, was a paper he published in the journal Medical Physics in which an enhanced version of his GA was implemented for the purpose of real-time optimization of the placement of radioactive seeds for treating prostate cancer.”

Exhaust plumes from a micro-plasma discharge thruster using different propellants. 

Carroll’s research has made major and fundamental contributions to high-energy lasers and plasma-driven devices. His laser research activities have evolved from experimental and theoretical optimization of hydrogen-fluoride and chemical oxygen-iodine laser systems to innovative new gas laser technologies. Non-equilibrium models and flow fields have been developed for these highly complex systems that involve gas dynamics, chemical kinetics, quantum electronics. While at TRW, he developed a multi-gain sheet COIL fluids/gain/lasing model coupled to a wave-optics code for a new high performance COIL simulation code called HELIX; this code later became the core of the advanced laser performance modeling that helped the TRW-Boeing team win the multi-billion-dollar megawatt-class Airborne Laser program. 

Carroll has taught undergraduate classes as an adjunct faculty at UIUC, served as an invited lecturer for graduate and undergraduate classes, and acted as an informal co-advisor for 20 master’s students and five doctoral students, as well as mentored many young scientists in his industrial career.  A visiting professor teaching Illinois’ capstone senior design course, he was the faculty advisor for Illinois teams that won four consecutive first place awards in the AIAA Undergraduate Spacecraft Design competition from 2012 to 2015.

Carroll became an AIAA Associate Fellow in 2005 and was named AIAA Fellow in 2011. He earned three degrees in aerospace engineering from UIUC: B.S. ’85, M.S. ’86, and Ph.D. ’92. His Ph.D. research demonstrated the highest measured HF overtone efficiencies--greater than 70 percent.