Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

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Sam Gildersleeve

Ph.D. in Aeronautical Engineering

Hometown: Clermont, NY
Degree Sought:Ph.D. in Aeronautical Engineering
Department: Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering Dept.
Faculty Advisors: Dr. Michael Amitay




Background and Accomplishments:

I'm originally from New York but decided to go to Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI for my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. There I founded the school's chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and served as the chapter president, as well as vice president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and worked as an academic tutor. While there, I also participated in two national design competitions and our team won first place in the National FAA Design Competition, where we then presented our work and prototype at the national FAA conference. Immediately after I received my undergraduate degree, I began the Ph.D. graduate program at Rensselaer with Dr. Amitay working on a Boeing-funded research project. Since joining RPI, I have had the privilege of presenting my work at several conferences each year, including the American Physical Society (APS) and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Along with that, I have been able to publish both conference and journal papers. My advisor and I have also worked on developing a patented design for a new type of flow control actuator and have conducted successful tests with a prototype and will continue to work with this in future experiments.


  2016-2019: National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship

  2016: Founders Award of Excellence

  2016: APS Travel Grant

  2015-2016: Boeing Scholarship

  2014-2015: RPI Graduate Fellowship

  2014: Awarded 1st place in the National FAA Design Competition

  2012: Inducted into Alpha Chi National Honor Society


Why did you choose to enroll at Rensselaer?

I chose to enroll at RPI based on the experimental work conducted by my advisor, Dr. Amitay.

There is a balanced focus between the fundamental and application-based studies regarding the area of active flow control. This is a fast-growing area of interest in the field, and there are many opportunities for new discovery, with much room to explore and develop new mechanisms to optimize performance and control authority over systems such as aircrafts, UAVs, and land and underwater vehicles.

What are some benefits of being part of the Graduate Community at Rensselaer?

One of the main benefits to being a part of the RPI graduate community is the cross-collaboration. There are many opportunities to work with faculty members, other graduate students from a variety of fields, and also with scientists and engineers external to RPI through shared associations. Due to the wide variety of student and faculty backgrounds and areas of interest, there is much knowledge and experience to be shared. Also, being a part of a community with a highly regarded reputation is beneficial for shaping successful career paths in the future.

What would you tell a prospective student about choosing Rensselaer?

RPI will provide many diverse research opportunities with corresponding opportunities to present and publish your work. This community is very goal-oriented and always pushing the limits to seek new challenges. As a result, the work conducted at RPI is top-tier, with high expectations that will allow you to reach your highest potential. As challenging as the program may be, there is always support from your peers and the faculty. RPI also has a great track record when it comes to graduating with a job offer, so this is also an important factor when choosing a graduate school and program. In general, the graduate program and community are great both academically and socially. The graduate programs definitely do their best to accommodate social opportunities for students throughout the school year and through the summer months as well. My advice would be to try new things, meet new people, and put yourself out there, because there is so much room for growth and gaining new experiences and knowledge from those around you.

Describe your graduate research and its purpose/applications.

Over the past three years, I've conducted several fundamental physics-based research experiments as well as application-driven experiments by investigating a new type of active flow control: piezo-electrically driven, finite-span surface-mounted cylinders. The implementation of these dynamic cylindrical bodies into a flow field over an aircraft wing or vertical tail stabilizer is studied as a means to control flow separation, which is the leading cause of the adverse drag force experienced while in flight. This flow control utilizes energy in the flow in a strategic manner, such that efficiency of the system is optimized and drag is reduced. In addition, this flow control also increases the lift force on the aircraft wing, which is another significant benefit.

More recently, my advisor and I have established a patented device which facilitates some of the same objectives with regards to optimizing the aerodynamic performance of a system by reducing the drag and increasing the lift around such things as aircraft wings, though the mechanisms by which it attains those results is different. This is where experimental work investigating the fundamental flow physics really flourishes.

What are your plans following graduation?

After graduation, I would like to explore the options of either joining a national lab or going into the field of academic research, starting as a post-doc. I would definitely like to continue on the experimental path and perhaps target the fields of high-speed aircraft or spacecraft system optimization.

Professional affiliations:

Member of AIAA (Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics)

Member of APS (American Physical Society)

What are your hobbies/interests/special talents?

I enjoy being outdoors when there is time away from the lab and classroom. I mostly spend time running, rock climbing, and hiking. Other activities include playing intramural sports through the leagues at RPI with my friends and peers.