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Two engineering professors win award in hypersonics


Debra Levey Larson

An artist’s rendering illustrates boost glide and scramjet vehicles for hypersonic flight. Credit: Raytheon
An artist’s rendering illustrates boost glide and scramjet vehicles for hypersonic flight. Credit: Raytheon

Professor Marco Panesi from the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Professor Tonghun Lee from the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign were awarded one of the Department of Defense’s highly competitive multidisciplinary university research initiative grants.

Both Panesi and Lee are in the Center for Hypersonics and Entry Systems Studies at UIUC.

The research outlines an effort to model non-equilibrium turbulence and chemistry interaction in hypersonic vehicles, a complex phenomenon that is relevant to both external aerodynamics in boost-glide weapons as well as combustion driven scramjets. The goal is to combine synergistic insights from multi-scale simulations, non-equilibrium chemistry, mathematical modeling, data assimilation, and high-fidelity experimentation to derive a modeling framework which can identify key reactions at the molecular scale which can impact overall vehicle performance.  

Marco Panesi
Marco Panesi

AE Professor Panesi is a Caterpillar Faculty Scholar and the director of CHESS.

“In the recent years, fundamental research has made a lot of progress in the understanding of incompressible turbulence, taking advantage of advanced mathematical models, and state-of-the-art laser and optical diagnostics,” Panesi said. “However, the validity of these theories and a clear understanding of the dynamics of turbulence in hypersonic chemically reacting flows has not been demonstrated. My research will address on the modeling of multi-scale chemical processes that take place in external flows and will characterize the influence of the endothermic chemistry on compressible turbulence at various scales.”


Tonghun Lee
Tonghun Lee


MechSE Professor Lee is a Kritzer Faculty Scholar and the academic lead of the DoD Center for UAS Propulsion. He will coordinate the experimental aspect of the project in collaboration with the Center for Hypersonics at the University of Queensland and the Defense, Science, and Technology Office, both in Australia.

“My role is to use state-of-the-art laser and optical diagnostic to probe the complex physicochemical dynamics that occur inside scramjet engines, and to provide high-fidelity data that can lead to novel ways of modeling scramjets,” Lee said.

The data from the experiments will be used for direct validation of models as well as for the data-assimilation guided model extraction and uncertainty quantification.

There are significant challenges in both implementation of high-speed laser and optical diagnostics in realistic reactive hypersonic flow paths as well as modeling of the relevant physics that can link molecular scale events to larger scale vehicle performance. This lack of understanding impedes the design of highly optimized hypersonic vehicles and the efforts outlined in the proposal will aim to provide a practical solution with the latest modeling, simulation, and experimental techniques.

The project title is: Discovering and Modeling Turbulence and Chemistry Interactions in High-speed Reactive Flows.

Venkat Raman from the University of Michigan will lead the project. Others on the team include: Roger Ghanem from the University of Southern California, Carlo Scalo from Purdue University, and Hai Wang from Stanford University.

For a complete list of selected 2021Office of Naval Research MURI grants, visit their website.