Q&A with Dara Childs

Director, Texas A&M University TurboLab


Tell us about your own research at the Turbomachinery Lab.
Most of my work has to do with stability problems in high-performance rotating machinery, and that includes pumps, turbines, rocket engine turbopumps, things of that nature. In recent years most of it has centered on injection compressors, and a big part of that has to do with annular seals and how they function. The work that my graduate students and I have done is really focused on the stable operations of the very high pressure injection compressors.

How are the TurboLab’s activities funded?
The research funds are from private industry and government contracts. Client-sponsored research projects have included one studying an electric motor for aircraft propulsion, which was funded by NASA Glenn, one on advanced materials testing that was supported by Deloro Stellite, and another on nanophases and nanofabrication that was conducted with funds provided by the National Science Foundation. We also have a research consortium with about 25 members that each contribute $15,000 per year to support our graduate students. Lufkin Industries is a member of that consortium, as well as Honeywell, GE Oil & Gas, Rolls-Royce Energy Systems, ConocoPhillips, E.I. DuPont, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Atlas Copco Comptec, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and Siemens Demag Delaval Turbomachinery, just to name a few who are found in the United States and Europe. I believe that Kobe Steel is our only Asian member right now, and all of these consortium members’ contributions fund around 10 research projects—with a graduate student assigned to each—that we generally have under way each year. Our staff engineers and faculty, which number about a dozen tenure-track engineering professors, are all from the university’s Dwight Look College of Engineering and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station. We don’t get any money from the State of Texas to support the laboratory or conduct research. We rely on profits from the turbomachinery and pump symposia we hold each year to pay for the TurboLab’s staff and operation budget.

When are the symposia held?
We host the Turbomachinery Symposium in the fall of each year, and the International Pump Users Symposium every other spring. The symposia are for users concerned with the maintenance, performance, troubleshooting, operation, and purchase of pump and rotating equipment, and each features technical sessions—including lectures, tutorials, and case studies—and exhibits spotlighting products from key players in each industry. The exhibiting companies usually send their “first-team” players, so it’s a great opportunity for attendees to go straight to the source to get answers to any questions they may have. We also have an advisory committee in place for each event to help guide our efforts, so we really see them as an outstanding way for actual users to get together and discuss their ideas and experiences.

MORE INFO: (979) 845-7417. turbolab.tamu.edu.