Pratt Fellow Aims for Quieter Flying Time

As a Pratt Undergraduate Research Fellow, Chelsea He is working on a project designed to deliver more peace and quiet to people traveling by air in the future. She is examining the structural acoustics of airplanes and experimenting with materials that might dampen the racket that results from the vibration of the aircraft, the engine and the flow of air over planes.

Chelsea He"I've always been interested in aerospace and aerodynamics and finding a way to achieve noise reduction is appealing," He said. "Airplanes are noisy and unpleasant. I wanted to do something about it."

The problem of noise reduction in aircraft is a particularly challenging one because the materials used must be exceedingly light, she said. While most previous work has looked for a homogeneous solution to the problem, He has conducted theoretical work to explore the possibility that a checkerboard of panels having different properties might be the key to quieter flying time. The idea is that the panels would be out of sync with one another, effectively canceling the noise out.

"The adjacent panels would all be different and stimulated with pressure waves at certain frequencies," He said. "The net effect would be zero because the panels would vibrate out of phase."

While her work has so far been theoretical, she said she intends to build a simple system and test it out with speakers and microphones in the laboratory.

The research has allowed her to pursue her academic interests while addressing a tangible, real-world problem. He said that another big perk to being a Pratt Fellow has been the chance to work closely with MEMS Professors Linda Franzoni and Donald Bliss.

"I love their approach to advising students," He said. "They are very hands on. The subject in the beginning was completely foreign to me, but I never felt like I was thrown in."

From Shanghai to Raleigh

He knows what being thrown in feels like. She was born in Shanghai, China and moved to Raleigh, N.C. when she was nine to join her parents, both of whom were graduate students at the time.

"It was a culture shock," she said. "I didn't know any English when I started elementary school."

She quickly found friends nonetheless and within months, she was already "totally fine."

He was familiar with Duke from a young age, having visited the campus many times. While she considered other engineering schools, she ultimately favored the more intimate environment she found at the Pratt School. She also liked the fact that she could take courses outside of her major. Taking advantage of that opportunity, she enrolled in French and art history classes.

She also traveled abroad with the Duke in Paris program after her sophomore year, learning the language and culture and traveling.

He has many other accomplishments to her credit. She is co-president of Duke's chapter of the American Society for Mechanical Engineering (ASME), a role she is passionate about because it fosters community among students majoring in MEMS. She also loves trivia and is the president of the Quiz Bowl club at Duke. In her sophomore year, she even got the chance to represent Duke on the TV game show Jeopardy!, fulfilling one of her lifelong dreams.

The experience gave her a new appreciation for the importance of timing. "For most of the questions, all three of us knew the answer," she said. "It was all about who buzzed in at exactly the right moment when the question finished."