NASA engineer turned faculty member inspires the next aerospace generation


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the short time since Eric Greenwood joined Penn State’s College of Engineering, he has worked to inspire his students to foster their creativity to solve real-world problems in the classroom and in the laboratory.

“It’s a very exciting time to be in aerospace,” said Greenwood, assistant professor of aerospace engineering. “In just the last few years, there’s been a growing enthusiasm about using aircraft for everyday tasks, such as door-to-door package delivery or intracity transit.”

Greenwood came to the University in August 2019 after working for 11 years as a NASA research aerospace engineer. It was during his time at NASA that Greenwood realized he wanted to pursue a career in academia.

“When I started my career, I had no intention of joining academia,” Greenwood said. “However, as time went on, I found that the most fulfilling part of my job at NASA was working with the students, postdocs and newly hired researchers and helping to build them up as they launched their own engineering careers.”

Greenwood said he realized he could make a bigger impact by training the next generation of scientists and engineers. That’s when he decided he wanted to teach at a university.

“Penn State was where I had hoped to end up,” Greenwood said. “It is one of the few places to offer a strong program in rotorcraft engineering through the Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence.”

Greenwood said he was also particularly excited about Penn State’s aeroacoustics program, the College of Engineering’s Graduate Program in Acoustics and the Center for Acoustics and Vibration. Upon joining the University, Greenwood made it a priority to help his students build the excitement and curiosity that he believes motivates engineers to explore and create.

“I believe that for most students, exploration and creativity are best accomplished by helping them to develop an intuitive sense about the governing physics being studied and by providing them with opportunities to creatively apply this intuition to solve relatable problems,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood teaches his students by using concrete examples of relatable experiences to highlight the practical utility of the concepts being taught in the class. He mentioned that he is exploring more collaborative learning methods that will potentially further enhance students’ creativity.

In order to further inspire and engage students outside of the classroom, Greenwood has been rapidly growing his research program. Greenwood and his research team are conducting numerous projects with the support of NASA, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and the Federal Aviation Administration. These projects focus on enabling ultra-low-noise operations of aircraft in and around communities in order to make day-to-day benefits of new aerospace technologies accessible to everyone.

“Noise has always been a major barrier to rotorcraft operations,” Greenwood said. “Despite the public good provided by helicopters today — air ambulances, fire attack, construction, etc. — tolerance of their noise appears to be decreasing and many localities have placed increasingly stringent limitations on heliport operations in response. These new types of vertical lift aircraft will have to be much quieter than existing helicopters to be able to operate at the scales necessary to be a major component of our transportation system.”

Greenwood’s research group — consisting of six core members, all graduate students in aerospace engineering — is working to better understand the physical mechanisms of vertical lift aircraft noise generation and find ways to use these mechanisms to reduce the noise generation. The group hopes to publish their results in the near future.

“Most of all, I hope to help my students — both in my class and my advisees in their research — rediscover that wonder about the way things work that we all experienced so often as children and led many of us to engineering in the first place,” Greenwood said. “It’s easy to lose sight of this as we go about our day-to-day lives, but I think it is especially important these days.”


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College of Engineering Media Relations

headshot of a man wearing business attire

Eric Greenwood, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Penn State. IMAGE: PENN STATE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING