Aerospace research propels faculty member to standout status

Casual portrait of Ciprian Dumitrache
Ciprian Dumitrache, an alumnus and now faculty member conducting aerospace research at CSU.

Ciprian Dumitrache’s fascination with aerospace began when he was a young boy living in Romania.

“Around the age of 14 or 15-years old, I started building my own rocket engines and rocket models. There was a club in my hometown, and we would go launch rockets we built.”

His fascination continued to grow, so he enrolled in aerospace programs to earn his bachelor and master’s degrees.

“Once I was in college, I started to actually understand what I was doing when I was a kid,” he laughed. “With building these model rockets, I would test different types of fuel mixtures and nozzles. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. When I got to college, I eventually learned why that was.”

This fascination led Dumitrache to eventually get his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at CSU where he now teaches as an assistant professor.

“I knew I wanted to do research just because, for me, being able to draw a dotted line between the type of experiments I was doing as a kid and the practical application of it, seemed to fit very nicely with research,” he said.

Dumitrache’s research interests are centered around aerospace propulsion, such as rocket and jet engines, and using lasers to understand how to make combustion more efficient.

His current research project targets Mach 5 airplanes, or planes that fly at five times the speed of sound—how can you keep the flame of an engine ignited when it’s moving at such a high speed?

“Imagine you have a lit candle, and you blow on top of it. Even at a very small speed, the candle’s flame is quenched. Well, imagine that same candle, but you blow on it with five times the speed of sound. It would be very hard to hold that flame stable. This is what my research is based upon—how we can use plasma to hold that flame inside an engine at those speeds and not let it quench?”

This past August, Dumitrache was selected to present on his research at the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) Forward conference at CSU. The conference highlights various research initiatives around the theme of national security.

Dumitrache presented as a DARPA Riser, an individual who has been dubbed an “up-and-coming standout” in their discipline. Dumitrache was selected as one of the top five out of all DARPA Risers that presented at the conference. This event included young researchers and faculty from across the nation.

Dumitrache in his laboratory at the Powerhouse Energy Campus
Ciprian Dumitrache stands in front of his new lab space at the Powerhouse Energy Campus.

“The main question right now is what does this mean in the end for me? And I hope the answer to that is building a strong network within the aerospace propulsion community, develop collaborations, and secure funding down the road,” he said. “What this allowed me to do was interact with a lot of program managers and people that work in DARPA and find out what kind of avenues can be pursued in terms of research funds and where my research fits within that.”

Dumitrache conducts his research mainly out of CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Campus. He credits the research facility for being one of the reasons he decided to return to CSU after completing his Ph.D.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like the Powerhouse,” he said. “Instead of having researchers that work independently in different areas, here at the Powerhouse, they look at who is doing research on energy, for example, and bring them all together across departments and disciplines. I like that because I think that’s how research is supposed to work in the 21st century. I think it must be much more multifaceted and bring together people with different perspectives to tackle one problem.”