An Experimentalist with International Flair
Aeronautics, PhD '99
Ivett Leyva graduated from Caltech in 1999 after spending, she declares, "seven great years" in residence, first as an undergraduate (transferring from Whitman College), then as a graduate student working with Professor Hans Hornung. Her PhD was in Aeronautics, her thesis on the shock detachment process on cones in hypervelocity flows.
Upon graduation, she left southern California for upstate New York, joining the General Electric Global Research Center as a mechanical engineer. She has been involved in a wide spectrum of technologies in her first three years at GE, including cycle analysis of microturbines, experimental testing of fuel cells, and currently, design of domestic gas burners and pulse detonation engines (PDEs).
"Working on PDEs is absolutely fascinating," Leyva explains. "They promise to be a crucial step in the ever-harder fight for higher cycle efficiency for aircraft engines." In a PDE, energy from the fuel/air mixture is released through a detonation (a supersonic shock wave coupled with a chemical-reaction zone). "I am involved in the conception of ideas, transformation of ideas to manufacturing drawings—including the minutiae involved with making an idea easily manufacturable—and testing resulting prototypes." The final step is analyzing results, then presenting and discussing them with program managers and VPs. "I have been very fortunate to travel twice to Russia and work very closely with Russian researchers. I have created joint programs with them, negotiated the scope and schedule of projects, and made sure that the schedule of deliverables was met." Leyva has had opportunities to publish and present PDE work at several conferences. And in 2002, she had six patents filed.
Leyva is also involved in design and testing of next-generation domestic gas burners. "I am the liaison between the manufacturing facility in Mexico (where I can practice my native language) and our research facility here. What I like most about this project is my exposure to this very short business cycle, very different from that of aircraft engines. It is also gratifying to see the very fundamental research we do get applied to such familiar products as domestic gas burners."
"One of the things Caltech best prepared me to do is be a very careful planner of my experiments," Leyva observes. "From my advisor [Hornung] I also learned the power of back-of-the-envelope calculations and the great value of doing CFD [computational fluid dynamics] and lab experiments hand-in-hand to strengthen and best use the results of both. Professor Paul Dimotakis taught me that a good experimenter really knows all the ins and outs of her experiment, and I try to abide by that philosophy." She also fondly remembers her friends on campus, "who made me a very happy student."
"At GE I have learned to merge analytical and academic knowledge I gained at Caltech with more practical and experience-based knowledge gained through my first few years here. Perhaps the only thing I wish I had had more experience with while at Caltech is more exposure to the practical considerations of manufacturing, such as making successful and safe aircraft engines. I have had to learn many of these things as I go."
Leyva feels the years she spent at Caltech "are some of the best in my life. I'm grateful to the GALCIT community who made me feel like a family member. I hope that through my work and citizenship I make them proud."