“Today we’re going to learn about how airplanes fly and how we can test different parts, like the wings,” explained Dr. Aurelien Borgoltz as the group of sixth-graders (and their mentors) peered excitedly at the contraption behind him. Borgoltz, a research professor in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering (AOE) at Virginia Tech, was leading a tour for a group of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) “littles,” or mentees, and “bigs, or mentors. The group visited the Subsonic Open Jet Wind Tunnel in Goodwin Hall, where they saw a demo using water vapor to visualize streamlines over a small, 3D-printed airfoil, and the larger experimental setup used by junior aerospace engineering students in their lab course. “The kids were already excited on the way here. And judging by the way they followed Dr. Borgoltz around Goodwin Hall, the excitement was only increasing! He really did a great job explaining,” said mentor Petr Cagas.
The group then walked over to Randolph Hall, where they entered the 1.83-by-1.83 meter test section of the VT Stability Wind Tunnel. As one of the largest university-operated wind tunnels in the country, the visitors were suitably impressed. “That’s more than a ‘little’ wide!” joked Cagas with his mentee. The students were amazed at how effective the anechoic lining was, which keeps sound waves from reflecting and contaminating researchers’ aeroacoustic measurements, and surprised at how large the 4.3 meter fan looked in person.
The visit was organized by Cagas, treasurer for the AOE Graduate Student Association, and Tina Cannon, director of BBBS New River Valley, in collaboration with the VT Corporate Research Center (CRC) Mentoring Program. The purpose of this program is to promote STEM education through one-to-one mentoring relationships lasting at least one school year. Readers interested in volunteering can find more information at https://bigslittles.org/volunteer/vtcrc/. Volunteers do not need to be affiliated with the CRC.