Purdue part of multi-university team developing curricula for future hypersonic workforce on DoD grant

AAE faculty are working to develop master's curricula as part of the grant from The Department of Defense.
mach 6 tunnel
Mach 6 quiet wind tunnel (John Underwood/Purdue University)

Only a limited number of academic programs provide a strong emphasis on hypersonic-relevant subjects in their curricula.

Purdue University is part of a multi-university team working to change that, aided by a $500,000, 12-month award from The Department of Defense. The DoD granted eight universities awards designed to accelerate the transition of cutting-edge technology to new hypersonic flight capabilities. 

The University of Tennessee Space Institute is leading a team that includes Purdue and six other universities that will develop the essential education curricula for the future hypersonic workforce and provide educational options for both students who want to pursue careers in hypersonics and the current professional workforce who are rapidly moving into the field.

The overall project lead is UTSI Professor John Schmisseur, who received his Ph.D. from Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and was selected as an Outstanding Aerospace Engineer by the School in 2014. Purdue’s principal investigator is AAE Professor Karen Marais, and AAE Professor Jonathan Poggie is co-PI. As director of Purdue’s Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation, AAE Professor Dan DeLaurentis also is involved in the project. 

Purdue’s group is working under “Task 1,” developing master’s curricula. The result will address the full range of technical disciplines essential for hypersonic system development, including aerodynamics, materials science, instrumentation and sensing, advanced manufacturing, and guidance, navigation and control.

“Developing new hypersonic flight systems require immense breadth and depth of information,” Marais said. “In addition to the traditional core academic areas like aerodynamics and controls, hypersonic systems also need engineers adept at integrating these areas into applications like thermal protection systems, physicists who can model hypersonic environments and phenomena, and technicians who can help make it all real. Academia must adapt quickly to provide future graduates with the tools they need to answer these technical challenges, and, crucially, understand how various engineering disciplines will have to work together to make necessary breakthroughs for future DoD assets.”

The curricula will be informed by industry and government agency needs, which will be ascertained using surveys. After identifying and comparing needed skills with currently available courses, the team will identify common foundational requirements and cross-disciplinary electives that can be offered from multiple disciplines.

A key element of all the curricula will be a strong emphasis on the development of students’ abilities and confidence in surveying and critically assessing the available hypersonic literature. State-of-the-art is constantly evolving in hypersonics, and educational curricula must emphasize the fundamental skills and tools students need to effectively analyze recent publications and maintain their own currency in critical areas.

The final milestone in the task will be formatting and distributing curricula among partner institutions, allowing students to take courses at multiple institutions.

“We look forward to engaging multiple generations of students, from undergraduate students to MS and PhD students at Purdue and the entire family of UCAH schools,” Marais said, “and also with continuing education opportunities at all levels, including for faculty and engineers across the country.”