Prof. Narayanan Komerath to Retire at Year's End

Prof. Narayanan Komerath to Retire at Year's End
Professor Komerath
Prof. Narayanan M. Komerath

With the conclusion of the 2019 calendar year, the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering will bid adieu to Professor Narayanan M. Komerath, who is retiring from a career that has spanned more than four decades at Tech.

“Losing someone with Narayanan’s depth and commitment is hard,” said William R. T. Oakes Professor and School Chair Mark F. Costello, who has kept abreast of Komerath’s rotorcraft-related projects over the years.

“But, we know, too, that he has planted the seeds of future accomplishment through his many contributions in the lab and in the classroom. More than 200 undergraduates got their first taste of research under his guidance. Four of the 18 doctoral students he advised won Georgia Tech's Sigma Xi Outstanding PhD Thesis award, an honor that is bestowed upon the top 1 percent of the Institute’s graduates. He has developed three US patents and authored more than 400 publications spanning fluid and aerodynamics, space concepts and micro renewable energy systems. I think the world will be benefiting from his legacy for years to come.”

The AE School will formally celebrate Komerath's career and retirement at a private reception, to be held November 5.

Asked to comment on his impending departure, Komerath began with humor, but defaulted to affection for the School where he earned his doctoral degree.

"My plans for retirement? I'm going to buy two TVs so that I can watch lots of cricket and my wife can watch mushy movies," he quipped. "But seriously, the most important thing I learned at the AE School is that a friendly smile can get you a very long way -- especially in working with the best minds in the world. And of course, I will miss the laughter of my students."

Regents Professor Lakshmi Sankar pointed out that his colleague's pluck could elicit a respectable chuckle from his peers as well:

"Professor Komerath, as a graduate student, was presenting his work at an international conference for the first time. An attendee in his session started launching a number of very probing questions and Prof. Komerath held his own. In fact, his answers impressed everyone in the room -- including the person who was asking the most challenging ones. That person was Sir James Lighthill, considered the author of modern understanding on combustion and turbulence generated noise."

Most Tech students and faculty know Komerath as the director of the experimental aerodynamics research group, which also encompasses  work with the John J. Harper Wind Tunnel. In that role, he has taught a broad spectrum of courses in aero and gas dynamics, vehicle performance, propulsion, problem-solving, experimental flow diagnostics and flow control. His colleagues have hailed his sustained progress on major problems such as rotor-airframe interactions and dynamic stall, and innovations such as Spatial Correlation Velocimetry, a Stagnation Point actuator for vortex control, and the Wind-Driven Dynamic Manipulator for dynamic explorations.

Pedagogically, Komerath has been credited with developing an ‘iterative learning process’, whereby students gain a deeper and more permanent grasp of complex material by encountering the same concepts several times in different contexts. Winning one of the first NSF Leadership in Laboratory Development (LLD) grants in engineering in 1992, he explored how students fared on content development teams for advanced topics courses.

Liliana Villarreal, MSAE '97, now a mission operations engineer at NASA Kennedy, quickly recalled how important Komerath's teaching was for her own career.

"When I came to Georgia Tech, I really struggled for the first few terms and even wondered 'What am I doing here?'   Then I took one of Dr. K's classes. Something he said about aerospace engineering just clicked and changed my entire outlook, and, ultimately, my career path."

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