By Randall Brown. Photography by Laura Horton.
Ragini Acharya brings a wealth of academic and industry experience to her role at the UT Space Institute (UTSI), where she joined in August of 2020 as an associate professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Her addition to the UT hypersonics team strengthens programs for students, industry partners, and the community.
Her recent years in industry found her establishing a home in Madison, Alabama, where she worked as the hypersonic propulsion lead at Raytheon Missiles & Defense in nearby Huntsville. Acharya wanted to return to the academic and research side of engineering, but did not want to relocate her family. The opportunity to join the UTSI faculty was fortuitous and welcome.
“At this point of my career, the position at UTSI aligned with my research goals and proximity to my current residence,” she said. “It enabled me to become faculty at a school with closely aligned research goals in hypersonic propulsion without causing disturbance to my daughter’s schedule, especially with ongoing school.”
The hypersonics expert also enjoys the scenic 90-minute commute to UTSI’s Tullahoma, Tennessee, campus, where she focuses on a next-generation computational approach to research challenges. The research goal is to enable a truly predictive computational solution to complex problems in high-speed applications.
Acharya feels that her most significant technical contribution to this approach is in uncertainty quantification enabled high-performance computing (UQCFD). Her research supports national defense and security. She believes that her greatest impact is through the mentorship that she has provided and will provide.
“I have worked in development of high-pressure rockets, propulsion system for high-speed missiles, aerothermodynamics, ablation, and thermal protection system for high-speed missiles,” she said.
Her industry background includes leadership roles with companies such as the Raytheon Technologies Research Center in Connecticut and CFD Research Corporation in Huntsville. Acharya’s accolades for her work included election as an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), election as AIAA STEM outreach director in Huntsville, nomination for the Mead Award for work on the solid rocket modeling for United Technologies Aerospace Systems, and numerous best paper awards.
This foundation of experience informs connections beyond the classroom for her current position.
“It helps me to view the strategic impact of my research goals and how they support UTSI’s strategic vision for academic leadership in key thrust areas for aerospace and defense research,” said Acharya. “My industrial training has enabled me to view the ‘big picture’ impact of academics, shaped my vision of the academic research on supporting industry and government, and hopefully I incorporate this experience in how we train our students to be prepared for industrial leadership.”
Outside of the research and academics of making rockets go faster, she enjoys the gentler pace of family-time activities around the region with husband Paul Palies, who will also be joining the UTSI faculty, and their 5-year-old daughter.
“We like fishing, swimming, hiking, and getting together with her friends on play-dates,” said Acharya, who also likes to exercise skills outside of computational modeling. “I enjoy cooking a lot and am very good at it.”