Faculty spotlight: Professor Jeffrey Bons

Posted: November 17, 2022

Next in our series highlighting core and associated Aerospace Research Center faculty, Professor Jeffrey Bons from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering shares insights from his career spanning decades of research and instruction. Learn more about his team's expertise by visiting the Turbine Aerothermodynamics Lab webpage.

Question: Why did you choose your field of research?

Answer: As an undergraduate, I first worked in a space systems lab and then in a composites lab. Both were interesting, but in my senior year I worked in the gas turbine lab and really became fascinated with how engines work. As one of my undergraduate advisors said, “Science gets interesting at its interfaces”. Gas turbine research is at the interface of fluids, heat transfer, structures, combustion, and thermodynamics. Engineers who work on gas turbines have to be conversant in all of these disciplines at some level. That was exciting to me. So, when I selected a topic for graduate school, I chose turbomachinery.  I haven’t regretted that decision.

Q: Describe one of your current projects.

A: Gas Turbines are such amazing machines – and they are designed to get the last 100th of a percent of efficiency, so everything is optimized to the extreme. Operating in all parts of the world, engines must contend with whatever contaminants are in the air that they ingest. In some areas of the world, naturally occurring dust particulate can be very prevalent and in other locations man-made (industrial) particulate fills the air. Unfortunately, these airborne particulates can significantly degrade engine performance due to the sheer volume of air that is ingested during a typical flight (600kg/s at cruise for an engine on a large civilian transport). Particles cause erosion in the compressor (cold section) and can be hot enough to melt and deposit in the combustor and turbine (hot section) – thus altering the carefully optimized machine’s performance. In extreme cases, the ingested particle concentration can be so high that the engine stops working altogether…a condition that obviously can be disastrous. Our lab is one of the few in the world where the effect of dust particulate on gas turbine hot section components is studied experimentally. We have a number of unique (one-of-a-kind) facilities for studying dust ingestion at simulated engine conditions. We even have a facility where we routinely test production turbine components from engine manufacturers to assess their latest “dust resistant” designs. We currently work with multiple engine companies as well as the Department of Defense to better understand all of the contributing factors to deposition and how to mitigate its negative effects. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: I really enjoy having a job where we (my students and I) can ask questions and find answers. If we find something unexpected in our results, we don’t have to ask permission to spend time exploring it further…we just do it! We’re constantly applying new analysis techniques and the students gain experience in all of the latest experimental diagnostics. Seeing the students grow and develop into productive, creative, innovative researchers is truly a joy.

Q: What advice would you give to incoming graduate students?

Have an open mind as to the project that you select. Every topic can be interesting if you look for the “fringes” of what is currently understood. There will always be some question that has not been answered. Find that question and you become a “pioneer” – blazing a trail for others to follow.

Q: What is special about the Aerospace Research Center?

A: The ARC is a great melting pot of faculty, staff, and students.  e regularly share expertise and resources. Pretty much every tool used in aerospace research is available somewhere in the lab. Students are eager to help each other and have fun learning about each others’ work.  You’ll never run out of new things you could learn if you remain inquisitive and ask questions.

Q: What keeps you inspired?

A: I am inspired by the next generation of engineers. They are incredibly sharp and eager to learn. I remind them of how far the field of Aerospace Engineering has come in 100 years – by far it’s one of the “youngest” engineering disciplines. I also help them set their sights on what seems impossible now, but may be made possible in their lifetimes. There is so much yet to be discovered – all we lack are the creative minds to actively seek.

Q: Anything else you would like to share?

A: If you have questions or are not sure if the ARC is for you, I recommend that you talk with some of the students who work here. Ask them what they’re researching and why it matters to the world. I think you’ll find that by and large they are motivated and feel a sense of purpose. What better place could you hope to find :)

Interested in learning more about how the Aerospace Research Center is impacting air transportation and beyond? Explore a variety of topics – and more faculty spotlights – on our research overview webpage.