ORISE fellow represents future of STEM researchers

  • Published
  • By Katie Scott
  • Air Force Institute of Technology

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- In May 2022, Annie Price graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, setting the foundation for her future as a researcher in science, technology, engineering and math fields. 

During an undergraduate internship with Princeton Satellite Systems, Price studied nuclear-powered planetary exploration concepts that fueled an interest in high-speed propulsion and led her to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Price’s senior thesis adviser told her about the Air Force Research Laboratory and connected her with Timothy Ombrello, a former graduate student and senior research aerospace engineer in AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate, High-Speed Systems Division. The connection paid off when Ombrello contacted José Camberos, associate professor of aerospace engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology, regarding opportunities for Price.

Two months later, Price accepted a position as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow working in AFIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics under the mentorship of Camberos and in partnership with Tyler Gardner from AFRL.

As an ORISE fellow, Price worked with The Technical Cooperation Program on a ramjet engine design challenge and testing in-house design and analysis software, collaborating with AFIT faculty and auditing graduate-level classes.

“Classes at Princeton are really theory-heavy, which I appreciate and think is very important, but sometimes the application gets lost,” she said. “AFIT is very application-heavy and offered me a different perspective. It allowed me to focus on how the theory applies to making actual vehicles.”

Camberos commended Price’s quick learning, technical skills and ability to overcome challenges.

“At the beginning of this project, Annie had little to no prior experience with high-speed propulsion, highlighting her impressive self-motivated learning in a short time,” he said. “She was able to quickly learn the complicated technical and theoretical background necessary to conduct a successful analysis using newly developed software tools. Her independence, confidence and determination took her through numerous roadblocks, particularly when she encountered confusing and conflicting results, which ultimately revealed software issues that needed to be corrected and resolved.”

Eager to learn and contribute, Price consistently applied herself to projects and expanded her knowledge in critical technical areas.

“While her college work gave her a good understanding of engineering principles, the technical discipline that Annie has been working in at AFRL is not covered in depth at the undergraduate level,” said Logan Riley, aerospace research engineer at AFRL. “Annie has combined her existing skills with what she has learned of high-speed propulsion to conduct some great research. Her work will serve as a launching point for future work and for our team to improve inlet-design tools.”

Price has published and presented the results of her inlet-design research and undergraduate work at professional conferences, both nationally and internationally. She was the primary author on a joint Army-Navy-NASA-Air Force conference paper in May and co-author of a 2023 paper and 2022 conference proceedings on nuclear fusion-powered Titan aircraft.

She also presented her inlet-design work to international partners through The Technical Cooperation Program at a panel meeting last April.

“One aspect of Annie’s professional development which impressed me very much is how she prepares for her technical presentations,” Camberos said. “In addition to the technical content, layout and progression, Annie takes the time to rehearse her delivery, something which is often lacking, even by seasoned professionals. She has inspired me to do more of this myself.”

In addition to her technical work, Price volunteered many hours to local STEM educational-outreach efforts through the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Dayton-Cincinnati Section. She helped with hands-on, design-build-launch activities for kids of all ages at the 2023 Dayton Air Show, 2023 Dayton TechFest, 2022 and 2023 iSPACE day in Cincinnati, and numerous AIAA Section lunch-and-learns.

Her passion for engineering began in middle school when she attended STEM events and hack-a-thons at the University of Pennsylvania.

“When I was in high school, I really enjoyed physics and calculus,” Price said. “I like solving hard problems. I never deviated off the course of wanting to be an engineer since middle school. Going to women in STEM events at UPenn really shaped me from a young age.”

Recently, she accepted a position with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory working in the air and defense missile sector, further solidifying her role as a rising star in STEM research.

“Annie has demonstrated great potential as a STEM professional and we continue to be impressed by her professionalism, desire to learn and resolute determination to succeed,” Camberos said. “We are confident she will be an outstanding contributor to future STEM research and also serve as an inspiration to future generations.”

Reflecting on her experience at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Price expressed gratitude for the guidance and mentoring she received, especially from Gardner and Riley at AFRL and Camberos, Ramana Grandhi and Fred Schauer from AFIT.

“The mentorship I had here was very rich,” she said. “I had the opportunity to spend time devoted to really diving into the technical material; learning and discussing one on one and the laboratory setting allowed me to hone my interest and skills for my future career.”

Price’s journey exemplifies the fusion of academic excellence, hands-on research and a commitment to STEM outreach, positioning her for an impactful career in the evolving landscape of science and technology, mentors added.