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Alison Flatau

Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Associate Dean of Research, Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland, USA
Country of Birth: USA

Educational Background: PhD and MS Mechanical Engineering, University of Utah, USA; BS Chemical Engineering, University of Connecticut, USA


Alison Flatau

Who or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
Many people and events combined to inspire me toward engineering. These include having an uncle who was an engineer, events like the NASA space missions and the moon landing, early Sci-Fi TV shows that included competent females in technical roles (at least the younger daughter in Lost in Space and Lt. Uhura in Star Trek come to mind), school teachers who encouraged me to embrace my aptitude for math and computers, and a wonderful experience in Sweden as a Rotary Club exchange student.

Primary responsibilities of your current job
As a professor, I get to both teach and do research. My teaching responsibilities include the required Introduction to Aerospace Engineering course. My research activities involve working closely with undergraduate and graduate students. I can pick the topics and research directions, as well as who I work with, which is much like running your own small company. My current projects include developing new types of large and small sensors and actuators. The smallest sensors I work with are made of nanowires that mimic the cilia or tiny hairs found in the cochlea of the ear. My newest project involves sensors that mimic the strain sensors found on the wings of hawk-moths, which we want to use for flight control of micro air vehicles (MAVs), i.e., vehicles too small for a big on-board computer. I’m also working on ways to reduce drag by controlling boundary layer flows. Consider the dimples on a golf ball, but being able to change the dimple shape as needed to maximize performance. If successful, this work could improve fuel efficiency in almost any vehicle.

Advice you wish you had received when you were first starting out
To really study and do well with my fundamental engineering and math undergrad courses. It has been very inefficient having to relearn material I should have learned better the first time around. Plus, time management skills! There is never enough time to do and learn everything I want to. Strategies for using time and resources at work effectively will lead to a healthy balance of work/family life activities, which is extremely important.