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Farrukh Alvi

Professor Of Mechanical Engineering Farrukh Alvi

About a half century ago from Florida's Cape Canaveral, the United States launched its first satellite—and the space industry boomed. But the aging workforce and shuttle fleet along with a faded and sometimes controversial public image has left the state's place in aerospace on shaky ground.

Today, Florida's aerospace industry along with its sister sector, aviation, rank third in the country, with 83,000 employees. That could drop as the shuttles and many workers retire with few young engineers entering the field, which lost its sheen years ago. Yet the need for more efficient, lighter jets, new spacecraft, quieter airplanes and alternative fuels continues to grow.

Having spent the past 15 years at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering, mechanical engineering professor Farrukh Alvi was well positioned to observe these trends—and do something about them.

"We (in Florida) have this expertise, and I knew what else was out there nationwide," Alvi said. "I knew that if we collaborated, we could be as good as any other group."

In a turbulent economy, Alvi applied last year for funding to create the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion, a center to serve as the go-to group in key aerospace and aviation areas for the state, private industry and government organizations such as NASA and the military. "Perhaps I was na´ve, and that's why I kept going," he said.

In fact, naivety would play no part in the proposal. The legislature jumped on Alvi's plan, giving it a $13 million budget for the next three years and ranking it second out of more than 40 candidates vying for support from the state's Center of Excellence initiative that funds emerging technology research programs.

Alvi is now director of the center, which joins researchers at FSU, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida. Alvi's own lab will contribute its nationally recognized expertise in the areas of noise and flow control. He remains optimistic despite recent bad news that the center will have to absorb a $3.6 million cut by the Florida Legislature: "We will try to do 80 to 90 percent of what we said we wanted to do with 75 percent of the funding," he said.

Although the center will have to trim some programs like student outreach, their core mission remains strong: growing the research of scientists and faculty "because that's what develops technology and attracts industry."

Alvi admits engineers have been talking about a revolution in the aerospace and aviation industries for a long time. But researchers are solving many problems that were impediments to dramatic improvements, he says, with a few key technologies still in the works. When all the pieces—including a better economy—align, Alvi predicts the center will be in a strong position to help the long-anticipated, air revolution finally lift off.—C.S.


Farrukh Alvi, professor of mechanical engineering, earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1992. In 2007 he was named director of the newly created Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion, which joins researchers at FSU, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.


 










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