Plasmas in Aeronautics: from Lightning Safety to Propulsion and Energy 


Plasmas in Aeronautics: from Lightning Safety to Propulsion and Energy 

Carmen Guerra-Garcia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

3:30 p.m., April 18, 2023   |   B001 Geddes Hall

These are exciting times for aeronautics. Novel vehicles are projected to conquer our skies, including drones, air-taxis, low emissions, and supersonic aircraft. But getting there will require addressing a myriad of challenges, some related to propulsion technologies and many driven by environmental concerns. Central to all these is aviation’s focus on safety. Plasma technologies and gas discharge physics are well positioned to solve combustion challenges as well as adequately protect these novel vehicles in the Earth’s electrified atmosphere.

Carmen Guerra-Garcia
Carmen Guerra-Garcia

The MIT Aerospace Plasma Group works at the intersection of plasma science and aerospace engineering to enable the control of transient plasmas in aero-relevant environments, for ignition, suppression of combustion dynamics, or carbon dioxide conversion, and provide a design framework to address the lightning protection needs of unconventional aircraft with no flight heritage.

In this talk, I will cover examples of our work in plasma-assisted combustion, including the dynamics of pulsed nanosecond plasmas in flame environments; the development of physics-based models for strategy optimization and ensuring favorable outcomes; and some peculiarities of the airborne environment, that call for fundamental research in lightning physics and electrostatic discharges.

Carmen Guerra-Garcia received her Aeronautical Engineering degree from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, in 2007, and her SM and Ph.D. degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2011 and 2015, respectively. Prof. Guerra-Garcia is currently the Atlantic Richfield Career Development Professor in Energy Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Prior to this appointment, Guerra-Garcia worked as a research engineer in Boeing Research and Technology Europe, held a post-doctoral appointment at MIT and was a visiting student researcher at Princeton University. Her research interests are at the intersection of aerospace engineering, low temperature plasma technologies, and gas discharge physics. Her current efforts span from aircraft safety issues (interaction of lightning with aircraft, novel methods for protection and mitigation against lightning strike damage), to plasma technologies for ignition, combustion, and chemical conversion, and combine multi-physics modeling, computation, and experimentation.

She is a recipient of the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award (2021), the Earll M. Murman Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising (2021), EU-US Frontiers of Engineering of the National Academy of Engineering (2021), the International Fulbright Science and Technology Award (2009-2012), the Amelia Earhart Award (2012), and the First National Prize in Aeronautical Engineering studies from the Spanish government (2007). She is a Senior Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and a Member of the AIAA Plasmadynamics and Lasers Technical Committee.