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Russ College student lands prestigious internship to explore the future of space propulsion

Tyler Prich | Mar 27, 2017
Yonry Zhu standing outside

Russ College student lands prestigious internship to explore the future of space propulsion

Tyler Prich | Mar 27, 2017

A standout Russ College senior has added another impressive achievement to his already extensive resume – a Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE).

Yonry Zhu, a mechanical engineering and physics double major and member of the Honors Tutorial College (HTC), will work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) through the program this summer. His research will focus on characterization of low-power plasma thrusters, which is a promising candidate for deep-space propulsion.

Zhu first heard about the program through his roommate, who also participated in a SULI.

“His experience was overwhelmingly positive and piqued my interest in applying,” Zhu said. “My work at PPPL will allow me to use the skills I’ve gained from my current projects to meaningfully contribute to research that will advance the state of space travel technology.”

Currently, Zhu is working on three research projects all involving non-thermal plasmas under the guidance of his HTC thesis advisor, Russ College Lecturer of Engineering and Technology Fundamentals David Burnette.

“As long as I’ve known Yonry, he’s been very self-driven,” Burnette said. “He possesses a superb work ethic and has done an impressive job of juggling two majors, work and research. He’s worked very hard to achieve the level of success that he has, and I expect even greater things from him in the future.”

Zhu’s current projects include a collaboration with Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Monica Burdick to develop a non-thermal plasma treatment for cervical cancer, a project with Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Wojciech Jadwisienczak to develop a nanocrystal synthesis process using non-thermal plasmas, and work with the University of Cincinnati to examine the effects of non-thermal plasmas in a rotating detonation combustor – research that has been accepted for publication in the proceedings of the upcoming 53rd American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Joint Propulsion Conference in July.

A former president of Theta Tau and founder of the OHIO chapter of AIAA, Zhu plans to pursue a graduate degree in aerospace engineering after graduation. He offered younger undergraduate researchers some simple advice: have a roadmap.

“What do you want to do? What skills do you need to be able to do it? How can you obtain those skills? Answer these questions,” Zhu said. “Start researching as soon as you can. Reach out to professors you would like to work with. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professors at other schools. The opportunities are out there, you just need the initiative to find them.”