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RD Support Essential to $10M NASA Grant

When Jim Coder, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, arrived at the University of Tennessee in August 2016, he brought with him an idea for a $10 million research project currently being funded by NASA’s University Leadership Initiative (ULI).

“As I was transitioning into my role at UT, I had a chance to submit a white paper to NASA for a slotted, natural laminar-flow airfoil concept,” Coder said, explaining his idea to enhance ultra-efficient commercial aircraft by targeting revolutionary changes in aircraft performance.

As airlines seek to reduce their carbon footprint, fuel efficiency is crucial. Coder’s idea provides a revolutionary change for fuel efficiency with novel aircraft concepts. He is targeting the slotted airfoil concept for transonic truss-braced wing aircraft through a partnership with Boeing.

Once Coder’s white paper was accepted, he only had 45 days to pull together a full proposal. One of his first steps was to reach out to the Office of Research and Engagement for assistance.

Jennifer Webster, research development manager, was assigned to work with the diverse team that included researchers at UT, five other academic institutions, a small company in Pennsylvania, and Boeing Research and Technology in Huntington Beach, CA.

“I was a new faculty member and still wasn’t familiar with the Cayuse system at that time, so I had someone I could lean on to help bring all those pieces together,” said Coder, referring to Webster.

Webster worked with him throughout the development of the proposal, engaging the entire team in the process. She proofread the proposal and helped write portions—such as the management section—to expedite the process.

“I could focus on the technical details of the proposal rather than the other administrative details of pulling together a large proposal to NASA,” Coder said. “To be honest, I didn’t have a full grasp of the complexity and work required to bring all those pieces together. But, to our advantage, Jennifer did.”

Due to her understanding of the project, once the project was funded, Webster filled in as program administrator when Coder’s original staff member took another position at UT. She served in that role until a permanent replacement was found.

“The help from ORE was invaluable,” Coder concludes. “I consider Jennifer to be co-author of that proposal, and I honestly do not believe that we would have been successful without her help and the help of the rest of ORE.”

Coder recommends other faculty, especially those new to UT, start early on proposal development and to contact the Office of Research and Engagement as soon as possible.

“When you have a big opportunity for a project or proposal, don’t wait to get started,” he said. “If you wait too long, you could be out of luck. Thankfully, we got an early-enough start on this ULI proposal that we were able to have a successful submission.”