Momentum Member Spotlight – April 2014
AIAA Congratulates Georgia Tech’s Ben T. Zinn
By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
The Member Spotlight’s beam swept south this month, falling on the city of Atlanta, Georgia, and singling out Ben T. Zinn, AIAA Fellow; David S. Lewis, Jr. Chair, School of Aerospace Engineering; Regents Professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology; and winner of the AIAA 2014 Reed Aeronautics Award, AIAA’s highest honor for work in aeronautics, for this month’s column.
Zinn began his career at Georgia Tech in 1965, moving to Atlanta from Princeton, New Jersey, where he was a research assistant in Princeton University’s Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Studies. His research has focused on fundamental and practical aspects of combustion including combustion instabilities in rockets, ramjets, afterburners and jet engines, fire safety, active control of combustion processes, low emissions combustion processes, “smart combustors” and acoustics. Zinn has also served as the principal investigator on the Department of Defense’s Multi-University Research Initiative program on “Intelligent Turbine Engines” and NASA’s University Research Engineering Technology Initiative on “Aero Propulsion and Power.” Zinn is also largely responsible for creating one of the nation’s most outstanding combustion research programs. Housed in the Ben T. Zinn Combustion Laboratory at Georgia Tech, the program involves more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students and seven professors – all engaged in groundbreaking combustion research.
Zinn’s work has been honored numerous times throughout his career. In 1996, he was been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, recognized as one of the top engineering honors. Zinn is also a Fellow of AIAA, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Acoustical Society. Zinn’s other honors include the 2003 AIAA Air Breathing Propulsion Award; the 2000 AIAA Pendray Aerospace Literature Award; the 1996 AIAA Propellants and Combustion Award; the 2006 American Society of Mechanical Engineers Westinghouse Gold Medal; and the 2002 Combustion Institute’s Alfred C. Egerton Gold Medal.
But, before all of his academic degrees, honors, and groundbreaking research, Zinn was an outstanding soccer player. Beginning his career in Israel, Zinn played soccer for Hapoel, Tel Aviv, when they won the 1956–1957 Israeli League championship. Zinn went on to play for an Israeli “All Star” team, touring Europe and the United States. Due to the demands of the tour, Zinn missed a ship’s departure back to Israel and subsequently missed his entrance exams to the Israeli Institute of Technology. Instead, Zinn moved to New York, and enrolled in New York University (NYU) to pursue his undergraduate degree and further his soccer career. While at NYU, Zinn set several records for the team, and maintained an astounding 3.2 goals per game scoring average. On May 28, 1959, Zinn played for the U.S. National Team in an 8-1 defeat to England, and also played for the U.S. National side in several other matches. Before becoming a professor at Georgia Tech, Zinn had to turn down a professional soccer contract with the Atlanta Chiefs of the North American Soccer League, an invitation to try out to be the Place Kicker for the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, and an invitation to play on Israel’s national soccer team. When asked if playing soccer taught him anything about succeeding in aerospace, Zinn replied “Playing soccer, made me competitive and a team player, it also taught me to work hard and not give up.” All lessons that have made Zinn the success he is today.
“I got into aerospace accidently,” said Zinn when asked about what attracted him to our community.
“My bachelors and masters degrees were in Mechanical engineering and I was working on my doctorate research in the area of heat transfer in mechanical engineering at Princeton University. A year after I started working on this project, my thesis advisor, Professor Bob Drake, left Princeton and I needed to find another thesis advisor. Professor Luigi Crocco, who was an honorary professor at Princeton at the time, then offered me an opportunity to do my research on liquid rocket engines combustion instabilities. I accepted his offer and have spent the following 50 plus years of my professional career doing research in the fields of propulsion, combustion, acoustics, energy and fluid mechanics.”
As a renowned educator, it was no surprise to learn that one of Zinn’s favorite memories connected to aerospace has been “hooding the more than 60 Doctoral students” he has advised over his years at Georgia Tech. Zinn also reported that his other outstanding memory was “having Georgia Tech’s Combustion Laboratory named after me in 2006.”
When asked what words of wisdom he had for college students working toward a degree in aerospace, Zinn said, “No matter how hard you think that you are working, it’s not hard enough!” He went on to clarify that his advice was really “for all students,” not just those already in college.
For his peers in the industry, Zinn offered the same advice he had for students, urging them to keep working harder. Besides hard work, Zinn also has this advice: “Be ethical and try to maintain high standards in everything that you do so that you will be proud of what you had done when you look back at it later in life. … Also, older engineers should teach young professionals how to avoid pursuing the wrong approaches when solving problems.”
Zinn wants high school students who are thinking about pursuing an aerospace degree to know that “it’s an exciting field full of personal rewards. There is nothing more exciting that developing a simple solution to a complex engineering problem. Also, with your knowledge of Aerospace engineering, you will be able to work in practically any field of engineering and beyond, like finance for instance.” Lastly, Zinn counseled them to “learn the fundamentals – math, physics and chemistry – well; they are the foundation of all that you will do for the rest of your life!”
Finally, we asked Zinn what the value of AIAA is to the aerospace profession. “As with everything in life, you will get from AIAA what you invest in it,” said Zinn. “AIAA could be extremely advantageous to engineers if they take advantage of what it offers (outstanding journals, books, conferences and local meetings). An engineer may significantly improve his understanding of Aerospace engineering and career by reading the AIAA publications, participating in their conferences and local meetings.”
AIAA congratulates Ben Zinn on his selection for the AIAA Member Spotlight in April 2014, congratulates him on his selection for this year’s Reed Aeronautics Award, and wishes him every continued success in his future endeavors.
Image Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology