Grad student earns top national award for work on rocket fuel

Richardson-webPULLMAN, Wash. – Ian Richardson has won the top award in the U.S. for students studying cryogenics, or materials at very low temperatures.

The Klaus and Jean Timmerhaus scholarship is given to one student in the U.S. every other year at the Cryogenic Engineering Conference.

“Ian stands out among many top students due to his aptitudes for teamwork, mentoring and recollection,’’ said his Washington State University mentor Jake Leachman. “Few student researchers in cryogenics have had such a remarkable level of achievement. He is clearly deserving of this award.’’

Ian Richardson in the lab at WSU.

Originally from Port Orchard, Wash., Richardson is a graduate student in the WSU School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. He works with Leachman to develop instruments to test super cold fuel mixtures.

To measure energy densities of such fuels, the researchers have retrofitted an instrument that precisely measures density and sorption, the ability of a material to hold or take up another substance.

They are measuring helium-hydrogen mixtures at temperatures as low as 14 Kelvin, or -434 degrees Fahrenheit. There have been very few accurate density measurements of rocket fuels at these conditions.

Richardson earned a bachelor’s degree from WSU in mechanical engineering. He has had a longtime interest in space and space exploration technologies and hopes to have a future career in aerospace.

Last year, he was WSU’s first recipient of a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship, which supports his work in making fundamental measurements of hydrogen-helium mixtures that occur in rocket fuel tanks. He is working as an intern at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland this summer.

Two years ago, Richardson led a student team that won an international competition for design of a hydrogen fueling station. He has published four papers in peer-reviewed journals and has been nominated for outstanding student in the MME department.