Director

Richard Wirz

Richard Wirz

Professor, Aerospace Engineering

Richard Wirz is a Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at UCLA and holds a joint appointment in JPL’s Electric Propulsion Group at JPL. He is the Director of the UCLA Plasma & Space Propulsion Laboratory and the UCLA Energy Innovation Laboratory. His plasma and space related research focuses on advance propulsion concepts and the plasma science relevant to these devices. His energy research currently focuses on new approaches to fusion energy, solar thermal energy storage, and wind energy capture. Prof. Wirz received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and a B.S. in Ocean Engineering from Virginia Tech and an M.S. and Ph.D. degree in Aeronautics and Applied Sciences from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Links
Faculty Page @ UCLA MAE

Researchers and Postdocs

Adam Collins

Adam Collins

Project Scientist, Electrospray

Adam graduated from the University of Cambridge, UK in 2006 with a masters degree in Natural Sciences, majoring in physics. He further completed an experimental physics PhD in 2012 at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, researching environmentally-friendly explosives, ballistics, imaging techniques, and granular materials. Adam joined Seth Putterman’s lab in the UCLA physics department in May 2012 as a postdoctoral scholar and then assistant researcher in 2018. His research in the Putterman lab centered around triboelectric X-rays, and how they can be used to probe surface-charge in new ways, providing a better understanding of static electrification and friction. Adam has been a research scientist at the UCLA Plasma & Space Propulsion Laboratory since 2019, specializing in electrospray thrusters and general diagnostics for electric propulsion. (Google Scholar)

 

Gary Wan

Gary Wan

Materials Scientist, Plasma Devices

Gary obtained his PhD from the University of Bristol, UK in 2021 where he acted as a researcher for the Bristol NanoESCA surface science facility. He operated and maintained the user facility which involved ultra-high vacuum techniques, photoelectron spectroscopy and various thin-film growth and surface modifications. Gary joined the Wirz Research Group at UCLA in 2021 to take part in research on plasma and materials for space propulsion and fusion, specifically on material designs and plasma-matter interaction. He is particularly interested in characterization and investigation of new materials, as well as their application in devices such as for aerospace or energy conversion.(email)

Graduate Students

Stephen Samples

Stephen Samples

Ph.D. Student, NASA Space Technology Research Fellow, Boeing Fellow

Stephen Samples is a 6th year graduate student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. Stephen is currently developing the MiXI thruster under an NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) to increase the TRL of miniature ion thruster technology. He received his B.S degree in 2014 from Auburn University, and joined the Plasma and Space Propulsion Lab in September 2015.(LinkedIn, email)

Anirudh Thuppul

Anirudh Thuppul

Ph.D. Candidate

Ani graduated from Rutgers University in 2016 with a double major in Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering and Astrophysics, and is currently a 5th year PhD student majoring in Aerospace Engineering at UCLA. His current research efforts are focused on low-frequency instabilities associated with ExB plasma discharges, plasma-material interactions, and electrospray thruster lifetime. In his free time, Ani enjoys running and other outdoor activities.(Email)

Nolan Uchizono

Nolan Uchizono

Ph.D. Candidate, NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunity Fellow

Nolan is a 5th year PhD student majoring in Aerospace Engineering at UCLA. His research interests include plasma metamaterial composite structures, plasma material interactions, improving electrospray thruster life and performance, electrohydrodynamic instabilities, high-speed electrospray thruster dynamics, and electrospray thruster facility effects. Nolan is a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Fellow.

After receiving his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Nolan spent 5 years working in industry. At Tri Alpha Energy (now called TAE Technologies), Nolan developed pulsed power systems and high-speed diagnostics for the C-2 fusion energy experiment. Nolan went on to work at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), where he spent several years researching Field-Reversed Configuration (FRC) propulsion, Hall Thruster facility interactions, and multiplexed electrospray thrusters. (Email)

Peter Wright

Peter Wright

Ph.D. Candidate, NASA Space Technology Research Fellow

Peter is a 5th year graduate student at UCLA. He received his B.S. from Boston University in 2013, with a major in Mechanical Engineering and a concentration in Aerospace Engineering. He was part of the Boston University satellite development team, BUSAT. After graduating, he went on to research electrospray propulsion at Busek before coming to the Plasma and Space Propulsion Lab in 2017. His current research efforts are focused on electrospray propulsion.(Email)

Angelica Ottaviano

Angelica Ottaviano

PhD Student, GSR

Angelica is a fourth year graduate student focusing on plasma-material interactions of structured surfaces. Processes of interest include erosion and secondary electron emission, and experiments are carried out in the dedicated Pi facility at the Plasma and Space Propulsion Laboratory. Previously, Angelica was employed at a private nuclear fusion company, TAE Technologies (formerly Tri Alpha Energy) as a plasma diagnostic specialist where she was part of the development, commissioning and operation of the Thomson Scattering system and magnetic diagnostics for the advanced beam-driven fusion reactor, C-2W. Before that, Angelica was an undergraduate Department of Energy Fellow at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory where she worked on carbon velvet surface for Hall-thrusters as well as an intern at the Swiss Plasma Center in Lausanne, Switzerland working on high-power gyrotron development for ITER and TCV tokamaks.(Email)

Henry Huh

Henry Huh

Ph.D. Student, GSR

Henry is a 3rd-year graduate student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCLA. He received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Sogang University in 2015. His current research effort is focused on computational modeling of electrospray propulsion and was awarded NASA Space Grant Fellowship in 2018. He is currently in the DOD HPC Internship Program (HIP) at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Edwards AFB. Henry enjoys playing soccer and foosball. (Email)

McKenna Davis

McKenna Davis

Graduate Student, NDSEG Fellow

McKenna Davis is a 2nd year student, a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellow, and a member of the electrospray computational team. She uses Python to simulate droplet dynamics in the electrospray plume. She received her B.S. in physics and mathematics, with a minor in business, from Rhodes College in 2018.(LinkedIn,email)

Mary Konopliv

Mary Konopliv

PhD Student, NASA Space Technology Research Fellow

Mary is a second year graduate student working on the plasma side of PSPL under a NASA Space Research and Technology fellowship. She received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering in 2019 from UC San Diego. She interned with JPL’s Electric Propulsion group, where she worked to develop non-invasive diagnostics to be applied to a Hall Thruster. Her current research funded by the NSTRF is to develop a fast optical emission spectroscopy system for time-resolved, non-invasive diagnostics of a plasma device.(Email)

Nicolas Augustus Rongione

Nicolas Augustus Rongione

Ph.D. Student, NSF Fellow, Aerospace Fellow

Nicolas completed his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and Physics with a minor in Mathematics at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida in 2015, and his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 2017 while being a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Subsequently, Nicolas was hired at The Aerospace Corporation as a Propulsion Test Engineer in the Electric Propulsion & Plasma Science group where he supports EMI/EMC compliance and RF (multipactor) component testing. Now, Nicolas is now also an Aerospace Fellow and is in his first year of doctoral work where his research focus is on the connection between the electromagnetic radiated emissions that emanate from a plasma and the plasma processes that created those emissions.(Email)

Richard Obenchain

Richard Obenchain

Ph.D. Student, GSR

Rich is a PhD student in Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has been working with the research group since 2019. His primary interest is in modeling plasma physics as related to high-energy electric propulsion systems; he has also worked with cold atmospheric plasmas in various applications. He is currently working under a fellowship from the UCLA SEAS Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Prior to obtaining his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering in 2021, Rich had extensive experience working in various industries as a systems analyst and administrator. His background has focused primarily on information and data management, including acting as data broker and statistician on over a dozen medical research papers. He has led international projects involving users and technical staff from multiple countries, often acting as the liaison between technical and non-technical personnel. (ORCID, Google Scholar, LinkedIn, email)

Shehan Parmar

Shehan Parmar

Ph.D. Student, Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellow

Shehan Parmar is a second year graduate student at UCLA. He received his B.S. in Astronautical Engineering and minor in Physics from the University of Southern California in 2019. As an undergraduate, he was a member of the USC Collaborative High Altitude Flow Facility (CHAFF), where he investigated thermal and catalytic decomposition mechanisms of ionic liquids using molecular dynamics simulations and density functional theory (DFT) calculations. After graduation, he began working for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) as a spacecraft propulsion consultant to develop a reduced-order model for green monopropellant thruster technologies. Shehan joined the Plasma and Space Propulsion Lab in 2020, where his research focuses on computational modeling of electrospray propulsion. Shehan is also a member of the UCLA First-Generation Graduate Student Council (FGGSC). (LinkedIn,email)

Patrick Crandall

Patrick Crandall

Ph.D. Student

Patrick is an aerospace engineering PhD student and has been with the research group since 2020. His research interests include air-breathing electric spacecraft propulsion, RF ion thrusters, and ion propulsion miniaturization. Previously, Patrick was employed at Ibeos as a Power Systems R&D intern where he developed a system to characterize spacecraft battery degradation and performed stress testing on smallsat power processing hardware. Patrick received a B.S. in aerospace engineering and a B.A. in physics from Virginia Tech in 2020. (Email)

Blake Haist

Blake Haist

Graduate Student

Blake is a first-year graduate student in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at UCLA. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2020 with a B.S. in Physics. He previously worked at Thorlabs Crystalline Solutions (formerly Crystalline Mirror Solutions), where he helped develop the automation of their optical ring down system. His current efforts are focused on the development of cold atmospheric plasma generation for medical applications. In his free time, Blake enjoys board games and playing guitar.

Collaborators

Adrienne Lavine

Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, UCLA

Benjamin Jorns

Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

Dan Goebel

Senior Research Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Gani Ganapathi

Principal Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Mario Merino Martínez

Assistant Professor, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

Miguel Garcia-Garibay

Professor, Chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UCLA

Nasr Ghoniem

Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, UCLA

Pirouz Kavehpour

Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, UCLA

Reza Baghaei Lakeh

Assistant Professor, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Ryudo Tsukizaki

Assistant Professor, JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science

Undergraduate Students

Ahmad Hafizuddin

Ahmad Hafizuddin

2nd Year Electrical Engineering Major

Maria Chamieh

Maria Chamieh

3rd Year Mechanical Engineering Major, Electrospray Experimental Research

Kaeshav Chandrasekar

Kaeshav Chandrasekar

3rd Year Electrical Engineer, Electrospray Research

Miles Richmond

Miles Richmond

3rd Year Aerospace Engineering Major, Electrospray Modeling Research

Taiga Asanuma

Taiga Asanuma

2nd Year Aerospace Engineering Major

Lab Staff

Amanda Gordillo

Administrative Assistant

Ph.D. (Alumni)

Gary Li

Gary Li

Ph.D. 2020, Spacecraft Systems Engineer, The Aerospace Corporation

Thesis: Plasma Sputtering Behavior of Structured Materials

Gary is currently working at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, CA as a spacecraft systems engineer. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a double major in Astrophysics and Physics in 2014 and UCLA with a PhD in Aerospace Engineering in 2020. His research interests include plasma-material interactions and the physics of miniature ring-cusp ion thrusters. He studied the sputtering properties of micro-architectured materials for minimizing erosion of plasma thruster walls. Gary has participated in research projects for liquid metal electrospray thrusters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Summer 2014) and field reversed configuration thrusters at the Air Force Research Lab (Summer 2016). In his free time, Gary enjoys teaching kids about science in Building Engineers and Mentors (BEAM) and Asian American Tutorial Project (AATP).

Research Projects
In-situ Sputtering Yield Measurements of Micro-architectured Materials
Design and Development of a Miniature Ring-Cusp Ion Thruster (Past)
Investigation of Ionic Liquid Electrospray Extraction Mechanisms

Contact
g.li@ucla.edu

Cesar Huerta

Cesar Huerta

Ph.D. 2019, Research Scientist, Air Force Research Lab

Cesar Huerta received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 2019, majoring in Aerospace Engineering. He received his M.S. in 2015 and his B.S. in 2012 from UCLA and was awarded the Eugene V. Cota Robles Fellowship in 2012. His research was focused on computationally modeling plasma-mediated material interactions through sputtering, deposition, and erosion. Outside of research, Cesar likes to be involved in the community, to motivate and teach young students, and enjoyed his job as a Teaching Assistant.

Research Projects
Photonic Crystal Array Microdischarge Modeling via DC-Ion (Past)

Contact
ceshuer@ucla.edu

 

 

Kaiyuan Jin

Kaiyuan Jin

Ph.D. 2019, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA

Thesis: Thermofluidics of Sulfur-based Thermal Energy Storage.

Kaiyuan received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 2019. He graduated from Tsinghua University, China, with a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering. He reseearched heat transfer behavior of sulfur in containment and performance of sulfur-based thermal energy storage system. Kaiyuan is a recipient of an Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering departmental fellowship.

Research Projects
Lab-scale demonstration of thermal energy storage concept with sulfur

Contact
kaiyuanj@ucla.edu

Yide Wang

Yide Wang

Ph.D. 2019, Researcher, Element 16

 

Yide obtained his master’s degree from the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCLA in 2017 and his Ph.D. degree from the same department in 2019. His research focused on performance of sulfur-based thermal energy storage system, integrated in concentrated solar power plant and combined heating and power system. In his free time, Yide enjoys updating the lap time of the day at the MB2 go-kart race track.

Contact
ywang92@ucla.edu

 
Chris Dodson

Chris Dodson

Ph.D. 2018, Director of Propulsion, Relativity Space

Thesis: Ion Heating in Hollow Cathode Plumes

Chris received his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio University in 2006. He then worked at Space Exploration Technologies for several years as a propulsion test and development engineer on the Dragon spacecraft propulsion system. In 2018, he received his Ph.D. degree from UCLA in aerospace engineering, focusing on computational and experimental aspects of the plasma-material interactions of electric propulsion and pulsed power devices.

Research Projects
In-situ Sputtering Yield Measurements of Micro-architectured Materials
Laser-induced Fluorescence Measurements of Energetic Ions in High Current Hollow Cathodes (Past)
In-situ Visualization of Ion-induced Surface Erosion using a Long Distance Microscope
Plasma-Material Interactions for Electric Propulsion and Pulsed Power (Past)

Contact
cdodson@ucla.edu

 

 
Marlene Patino

Marlene Patino

Ph.D. 2017, Postdoctoral Fellow, UCSD Center for Energy Research

Thesis: Plasma inter-particle and particle-wall interactions

Marlene Patino received her Ph.D. from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCLA in 2017. Through support from the UCLA Dissertation Year Fellowship, UCLA Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellowship, DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research Award, NASA Space Grant Fellowship, Gen. James H. Doolittle Scholarship, and HENAAC Graduate Student Leadership Award, she has conducted research at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory to examine heavy species collisions and particle-wall interactions necessary for predicting the lifetime and performance of current and future electric propulsion devices. She received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Aerospace Engineering from UCLA in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

Research Projects
Simplified plasma experiment for investigation of plasma diffusion and transport mechanisms (Past)

Contact
mipatino@ucla.edu

 
Ben Dankongkakul

Ben Dankongkakul

Ph.D. 2017, Electric Propulsion Research Scientist, Project Kuiper, Amazon

Thesis: Overcoming the Scaling Limitations of Ring-Cusp DC Ion Thruster Discharges

Ben Dankongkakul graduated from University of California, Los Angeles in 2017 with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and is currently working as a postdoctoral scholar at the UCLA Plasma and Space Propulsion Lab. He also received his B.S and M.S at the same institution in 2009 and 2011, respectively. His research focuses on understanding and improving magnetic cusp confinement of plasma in an effort to design an efficient micro-scale discharge, which will be applied to the next generation design of a Miniature Xenon Ion (MIXI) thruster.

Research Projects
Design and Development of a Miniature Ring-Cusp Ion Thruster (Past)
Near-surface cusp confinement of micro-scale plasma (Past)
Particle-in-cell modeling for near-surface cusp confinement of micro-scale plasma (Past)

Contact
bendankongkakul@gmail.com

 

 
Phillip Chiu

Phillip Chiu

Ph.D. 2017, Aerodynamics Research Engineer, Envision Energy

Thesis: Aerodynamics and design of biplane wind turbine blades

Phillip Chiu received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering after receiving a B.S. in the same from the University of California, Davis. His research interests are in wind turbine blade aerodynamics and design. Phillip’s work has been supported generously by the Link Foundation Energy Fellowship.

Research Projects
Aerodynamic performance of biplane wind turbine blades
Aero-structural design investigations for biplane wind turbine blades

Contact
philchiu@ucla.edu

 

 
Gabriela Bran-Anleu

Gabriela Bran-Anleu

Ph.D. 2016, R&D S&E, Mechanical Engineering, Sandia National Laboratories

Thesis: Complex Heat Exchangers for Improved Performance

Gabriela Bran-Anleu received her Ph.D. from the MAE department at UCLA in 2016. Her emphasis is in Heat and Mass Transfer. Gabriela’s primary research areas are thermal property analysis of supercritical fluids and the transient behavior of heat exchangers for thermal energy systems. Gabriela’s past research experiences have been the behavior of passive scalars for a better understanding of real world applications and the properties of nucleate boiling under microgravity conditions. She also worked at San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) in the design groups and then transferred to the primary systems plant engineering group, where she was responsible for inspecting and solving potential technical plant problems. Gabriela is a member of the Society of Hispanic Engineers (SHPE) since 2008, and was part of the Center for Academic and Research Excellence scholar in 2010 and 2011.

Research Projects
Material compatibility analysis

 
Louis Tse

Louis Tse

Ph.D. 2016, Thermal engineer, JPL

Thesis: Thermodynamic Modeling of Thermal Energy Storage Systems Using Novel Storage Media

Louis Tse received a Ph.D from the UCLA Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in 2016. He was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2012 for research of a novel thermal energy storage (TES) system funded by the Department of Energy. His specialization includes numerical modeling, heat transfer, and systems engineering. Tse completed his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Arizona State University with Summa Cum Laude honors. He also serves as the President of the UCLA Engineering Graduate Student Association (eGSA), Project Leader for the UCLA Volunteer Center, and regular donor at the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center.

Research Projects
Exergy analysis and optimization of TES system design and performance
System and technoeconomic modeling of multi-phase and thermochemical thermal energy storage

Contact
ltse1@g.ucla.edu

 

 
Ryan Conversano

Ryan Conversano

Ph.D. 2015, Technologist, Electric Propulsion Group, JPL

Thesis: Low-Power Magnetically Shielded Hall Thrusters

Dr. Ryan W. Conversano received a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2010, 2011, and 2015, respectively.

Dr. Conversano is currently working as a Technologist for the Electric Propulsion Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. From mid-2012 until graduation in September, 2015, he conducted research focused on the development and testing of the Magnetically Shielded Miniature (MaSMi) Hall thruster . From 2008 to mid-2012, he was active in a variety of research disciplines, including high-power plasma-material interactions, lunar mission CubeSat mission studies, microsatellite mission design, biologically inspired flexible wing design, cylindrical ring-wing projectile analysis, and piezoelectric actuator testing. 

As a Ph.D. candidate, he was a fellow of the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship , awarded in 2013. He was a recipient of the NSF SEE-LA GK12 Fellowship in 2012, the AeroClub of Southern California Scholarship Award in 2011, and the UCLA Chancellor’s Prize for Academic Excellence, UCLA Graduate Student Research Mentorship, and UCLA Graduate Division Student Support Award in 2010.

Research Projects
Demonstration and characterization of a low power magnetically shielded Hall thruster (Past)

Contact
ryan.w.conversano@jpl.nasa.gov

Samuel Jun Araki

Samuel Jun Araki

Ph.D. 2014, Computational Scientist, Air Force Research Laboratory

Thesis: Multi-Scale Multi-Species Modeling for Plasma Devices

Samuel J. Araki received B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering from University of California, Los Angeles, CA, in 2007, 2009 and 2014 respectively. His doctoral research includes heavy species modeling and the development of a particle-in-cell model to investigate near-surface cusp confinement of micro-scale plasma discharges for microthrusters and terrestrial plasma sources.

Research Projects
Near-surface cusp confinement of micro-scale plasma (Past)
Particle-in-cell modeling for near-surface cusp confinement of micro-scale plasma (Past)

Contact
samuel.jun.araki@ucla.edu

 
Perry Roth-Johnson

Perry Roth-Johnson

Ph.D. 2014, Assistant Curator, Aerospace Science | California Science Center

Thesis: Aero-structural design investigations for biplane wind turbine blades.

Research Projects
Aerodynamic performance of biplane wind turbine blades
Aero-structural design investigations for biplane wind turbine blades

Contact
perryjohnson@ucla.edu

 

Hann-Shin Mao

Hann-Shin Mao

Ph.D. 2012, Postdoctoral Scholar, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Thesis: DC plasma discharges for plasma propulsion applications

Contact
HSMao@lbl.gov