article Spring 2021

Hydrodynamics of Renewable Energy and a Love for Teaching

Learn about Professor Franck’s love for teaching and her research in the areas of computational fluid dynamics, exploring the hydrodynamics of renewable energy!

Photo by: Jason Leonardo

Jennifer Franck is an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering, who joined UW-Madison approximately two and a half years ago. Her current research is molded from her experience as a postdoctoral scholar at Brown University. Her work is a combination of biology-inspired fluid dynamics and an exploration of ways to enhance renewable energy. In describing her projects, Franck states that her focus truly lies in the hydrodynamics of renewable energy and that “fluid dynamics is all around us – the wind, the water, the air”. The research project that she is working on is really inspired by nature. While biologists are usually interested in taking an evolutionary perspective, Franck asks questions such as “how do creatures move through air and water?”.

Professor Franck worked on her NSF postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University, where she worked on an interdisciplinary team of biologists and engineers, monitoring bat flight. The objective was to design a micro air vehicle prototype that could flap similar to a bat’s flying motion. Franck was more involved with the modelling aspect of this research. Beyond bat flight, Franck looked at other ways that animal propulsion works in nature; for example, the way a fish swims can be modelled in an oscillatory manner. Through this concept, she began a project called Leading Edge. For this project, she designed an alternative to a hydrokinetic turbine, which she called an Underwater Oscillating Foil. A hydrokinetic turbine is essentially a wind turbine that works underwater, using the motions and forces of fluids in order to generate electricity. While all these projects were conducted at Brown University, Franck now at UW-Madison, continues to work on how different oscillatory motions can be combined to boost the total energy.

Franck’s passion for fluid dynamics began during her junior year of her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Aerospace Engineering. She loved the physics aspect of her major and has always been interested in computers and programming. In her third year, she took her first fluid dynamics class and realized that she absolutely loved it and had a fascination with it. From there, she wrote her senior thesis and her research advisor encouraged her to apply to grad school. She got a fellowship to graduate school, which she attended at the Caltech Aeronautics department and attained her master’s and PhD.

Professor Franck also had a love for teaching and participated in a lot of high school outreach programs. Her favorite part about being a professor at UW-Madison is interacting with students on all levels – from freshman to seniors to graduate students. She chose to work at UW-Madison because of its highly ranked engineering school, allowing for many opportunities for collaboration. Furthermore, she loves her students! Professor Franck also loves being in Madison, which is a prime location for a person who loves the outdoors. She enjoys cross country skiing in the winter and kayaking in the summer with her family.

Being a woman in STEM is something that has made Professor Franck’s journey more interesting. In her undergraduate class at University of Virginia, she was one of two women in her graduating class. At Caltech, she was also one of two women in her incoming class. She was the only female in her PhD research group. Being the mother of three young girls, Professor Franck is determined to bring attention to and eliminate the challenges that women in STEM face.

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