BTN LiveBIG: Purdue 'rolls' out new partnership to develop tomorrow's jet engineers

BTN LiveBIG: Purdue 'rolls' out new partnership to develop tomorrow's jet engineers

Purdue_RRjet3One is known for Neil Armstrong and global engineers. The other is known for powering the world’s aircraft and producing exclusive luxury automobiles. Together, they’re planning to create the jet aircraft of the future.

Purdue University’s campus in West Lafayette, Ind., is about 4,000 miles from Rolls-Royce’s global headquarters in London, but the company also maintains major engineering, design and manufacturing operations in Indiana and Virginia. While the geographic and cultural complexities among the two organizations might make a research and development partnership seem problematic, there’s actually a strong foundation for that kind of relationship.

For one thing, more than 600 Purdue alumni already work for Rolls-Royce. For another, both are heavy-hitters in the field of power and propulsion. Given those circumstances, the announcement earlier this month that the institutions would form a $33 million program to develop next-generation jet engines isn’t quite so surprising.

“We target corporate partners that hire our students and have our alums and work in the same research space, so that brought us to Rolls-Royce as an obvious strategic partner,” said Daniel Hirleman, Purdue’s chief corporate and global partnerships officer.

“Another thing about Purdue is we have focused on aerospace and aerospace propulsion for many years,” he added. “We built a rocket lab in the late 1940s, and we have very large-scale facilities, very unique facilities. So, if you put together the facilities and the expertise and the natural affinity of our two organizations, then you have a great foundation.”Purdue_RRjetAs part of the new agreement, Purdue is creating a Rolls-Royce academic fellow program. Rolls-Royce also designated Purdue as a University Technology Partner. The UTP relationship includes two separate research centers — one studying thermal management systems and another focusing on advanced compressor technologies.

“This designation means we and they are committed for the long term in these two areas,” Hirleman explained. “This first agreement is five years, but we are optimistic that this will be extended beyond a decade working toward this next generation of engines.”

Collaborative research is nothing new for the two organizations. Rolls-Royce’s first University Technology Center located outside of Europe was established at Purdue in 2003 to research high-Mach propulsion. That program will now transition into the new thermal management project. Through this research, students and faculty at the university will aim to find lighter-weight, more efficient materials that allow aircraft to operate at higher temperatures.

The partnership, paired with a $5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, helps with enhancements of the Zucrow laboratories at the West Lafayette campus — which currently house much of Purdue’s research operations in aeronautics, machinery, combustion and related area, Hirleman said

It’s just another way that Purdue plans to continue its groundbreaking work in aeronautical engineering.

“We would argue it’s the world’s best university facility for propulsion research,” Hirleman said. “We’re building new facilities that will allow higher temperature, higher pressure, more realistic experiments to be done in discovery research as well as technology development.

“I think that it has all come together. We jointly developed the collaborative plan with a long-term horizon and focus on talent and a few signature research areas. We’re very excited that it’s going to have great impact.”

By Jason Dorow

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