Fluid Dynamics Led Conyers from Bioenvironmental Engineering to Aerodynamics Research

conyers.jpgAs a boy growing up in rural Manning, S.C., Howard Conyers learned a love for the outdoors early. Rather than follow in the shadows of his older brother, who excelled as an athlete, the young Conyers also made the decision to put more of his focus on academics, particularly math and science.

In his choice of colleges, Conyers found a way to combine his interest in the environment with his serious academic side. He enrolled at North Carolina A & T State University in Greensboro as a bioenvironmental engineering major and USDA 1890 Scholar in 2000.

Through the scholars program, he spent the summers gaining experience through internships–— two summers working for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as a land surveyor and engineering technician and another two for Arthur Daniels Midlands Company. For Arthur Daniels Midlands Company he worked as a production assistant, monitoring the fermentation process used to produce xanthan gum, a ubiquitous food stabilizer. The following summer he spent in a vegetable oil processing plant, where he was responsible for designing the dust aspiration system and filing water quality reports made to the Environmental Protection Agency.

As an undergraduate, he also served as Engineering Ambassador for the school and Scout Master for a local Boy Scout troop.

“I thought I could serve as an inspiration for young kids from the city,” Conyers said. “I wanted to share what I know about life and outdoors to the scouts.”

In his environmental engineering courses, Conyers said he was always particularly intrigued by fluid dynamics. To further that budding interest, Conyers made the switch to mechanical engineering as a graduate student in the lab of Professor Earl Dowell studying aeroelasticity.

“I think of myself as a mechanical engineer now, but I’m still an environmental engineer at heart,” Conyers said.

“Still, all the basic principles carry across the board,” he added. “The fundamentals don’t change.”

Now entering his third year at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, Conyers is in the early stages of examining how damage influences the dynamics of an airplane wing.

“I’m working on the aeroelastic instability of a cropped delta wing representative of an F16 fighter jet,” Conyers said. “I’m trying to understand what happens when a wing gets a hole in it during warfare.

“If we understand what happens with a hole, we might know what flight speed a pilot should drop to in order to get the plane to a safe landing – preserving human life and prolonging the service life of military planes.”

The first step is understanding the problem from the structural side, he said, an examination he is now working up in hopes to submit for publication. From there, he will work on models that describe the aerodynamics of the system.

The work involves a good mix of computational and experimental research, said Conyers, who considers himself to be a hands-on learner.

Conyers, who ultimately wants to be a teacher, hopes to first gain some experience in the corporate world after graduation. As for what his parents back in Manning think about his success, Conyers said, “my family is just amazed.”