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Research Associate Spotlight: Meet NETL Graduate Intern Kristyn Johnson

Internships at NETL offer “every imaginable opportunity and advantage” to prepare for a rewarding career, said Kristyn Johnson, a research associate in NETL’s Professional Internship Program.

Serving as an NETL intern has permitted Johnson, who is pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at West Virginia University, to develop solutions to real-world energy challenges, use state-of-the-art research tools and collaborate with top U.S. researchers, including her mentor, Don Ferguson, Ph.D., a member of the Thermal Sciences Team within the NETL Research and Innovation Center.

Johnson recently discussed the benefits of an NETL internship and the contributions she is making at Lab.

What has been your main research project?
“My research focuses on rotating detonation engine (RDE) technology. RDEs create controlled, continuous detonation waves that rotate inside a modified gas turbine combustion chamber, which allows RDEs to avoid the pressure loss and resulting decrease in efficiency that occurs with conventional gas turbine engines. The rotating detonation process means more of the fuel’s energy is captured and used, resulting in higher power output, less fuel being consumed and reduced environmental impact.

To develop these devices for industrial use, we must first attain an understanding of their highly dynamic combustion behaviors. Our research aims to use machine learning and computer vision techniques to analyze high-speed images of combustion features captured during experimental operation of an RDE. This real-time RDE diagnostic will continue to grow in importance as RDE operating windows mature toward industrial integration.”

What have been the most impactful or valuable takeaways from your experience at NETL?
“At the start of my appointment, I had no previous experience or skills associated with artificial intelligence or machine learning aside from scientific functional coding. After expressing some interest in the topic, my NETL mentor encouraged me to develop the skills to integrate machine learning with our experimental data in a valuable way. Now, in addition to a new skill set that serves as the foundation of my dissertation research, I am fully aware and appreciative of my abilities to pursue new skills while at NETL and throughout my career.”

Do you think your experience at NETL will help you make an impact in the energy sector?
“My hope is that my experience and development of a real-time RDE diagnostic will fulfill its role as a steppingstone in the cumulative work of the pressure gain community, making a direct impact on the energy sector in the years to come. Additionally, my time at NETL has cultivated my passion for energy research and grown my commitment to improve gas turbine technologies.”

How has your opinion of the fossil energy industry changed during your experience at NETL?
“My experience at NETL has reinforced my opinion of the current fossil energy industry. Clearly, the ability to produce energy independent of fossil fuels and their subsequent greenhouse gases is ideal. However, it is apparent that until that goal is fully reached in many industries, fossil fuels will be a necessary component of our combined energy production. Therefore, dedicating research to improve efficiencies and reduce or capture emissions of those nonrenewable energy industries is equally imperative to the effort of addressing climate change. Research at NETL addresses that exact issue and strives to improve various components of a stable, diverse energy portfolio.”

Can you elaborate upon your experiences while at NETL?
“Interning at NETL offers every imaginable opportunity and advantage. Collaborating with  seasoned engineers and scientists with established presence in the pressure gain community, while also having access to world-class equipment and facilities like the Joule 2.0 supercomputer and our Low Emission Combustor Test and Research facility has been an incredible experience. Those aspects of my appointment have fostered progress in my own research and have led to opportunities to author technical papers and conference presentations. Of course, before COVID-19, those conferences included the added benefit of traveling, often to sites I had never visited.”


 Click here for more information about NETL internships.

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