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Department of Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. student Elaine Petro has been selected as a Metropolitan Washington Chapter of Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (MWC/ARCS) Foundation Scholar for 2017-2018.

Petro is a student in Associate Professor Raymond Sedwick’s Space and Propulsion Laboratory working on the development of a water-propelled helicon thruster with specific impulse control. Her focus is looking at operating the helicon thruster—a type of ion propulsion system—with water vapor as a propellant to achieve performance suitable for deep space exploration missions. Through her research, they have developed a water vapor ionization model that predicts plasma characteristics such as the molecular composition and energies of ions created as a function of the electron energy. These plasma characteristics determine the achievable thrust and specific impulse. These and additional loss mechanisms in the helicon source have been incorporated into a power balance analysis in order to predict and optimize thruster efficiency.

Beyond the Space and Propulsion Lab, Petro is actively involved in the department’s Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics (WIAA) student group. She serves as WIAA’s Vice President of Community Development and helps the group facilitate and organize activities to engage the community and enhance industry networking.

Over the past few years, Petro has been recognized for her outstanding engineering work with awards such as a 2014 National Science Foundation Research Fellowship, a 2015 Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship and in 2016, she was named one of Penton Aviation’s 20 Twenties, representing tomorrow’s engineering leaders.

Petro along with fellow ARCS scholars will be recognized during the Scholar Awards Reception held October 12, 2017 at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, D.C.

The ARCS Foundation advances science and technology in the United States by providing financial awards to academically outstanding students studying to complete graduate degrees in science, engineering and medical research. Since its founding in 1958 in Los Angeles, California, ARCS has grown to a national organization of 17 chapters that have provided more than 14,000 scholar awards totaling nearly $83 million at 54 leading universities. Since the Metropolitan Washington Chapter of ARCS’ beginning in 1968, it has raised approximately $7 million in scholar awards.



March 17, 2017


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