Purdue Profiles: Timothée Pourpoint

December 8, 2015  

Timothee Pourpoint

Timothée Pourpoint, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)
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A fascination originating in a European comic book has taken off for Timothée Pourpoint, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, resulting in his career in studying propulsion, combustion and energy storage.

Now Pourpoint, a 38-year-old native of France, is working hand-in-hand with students and fellow faculty to help Indiana residents celebrate the state's history by creating a torch for next year's bicentennial relay.

His education began by earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at ESTACA University in Paris. But his career plans originally did not include a stop in the Midwest.

What brought you to Purdue University?

Propulsion, that's very simple. I've been passionate about rocket propulsion since my early days. I think what got me into it was a comic book very famous in Europe called Tintin. Tintin is a reporter and he goes around the world in that comic book. And in one of them Tintin goes to the moon. I remember reading that comic book left and right, up and down, etc., and really getting excited about space from that comic book and then getting into propulsion.

In 1999, I decided to spend a couple of years in the U.S. for a master's degree at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, which I got in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Little did I know that two years would become 15-plus. I never left and decided at the end of my master's to apply for a PhD here at Purdue. I was admitted and started in January 2001.

You helped lead the development of the facilities at the Zucrow High Pressure Laboratory. What was that work like?

Purdue is very well known in the propulsion area. The facilities here are second to none.

When I came to visit in November 2000, there was two feet of snow everywhere and there were two cars in the parking lot. I thought "This is a little bit of a ghost town. Should I come?" But the potential of the lab capabilities we had was pretty obvious. Lucky for me, Zucrow got a grant from the state of Indiana in 2001, complemented by grants from Rolls-Royce and others to redevelop the lab, which had gone into disrepair a little bit over the years.

So since 2001, we've grown tremendously. We are now occupying every single square foot. I helped put things back together. Towards the end of my PhD, my advisor Bill Anderson, who is still here at Purdue, asked me to stay for a couple of years and help continue the development of the lab. I had shown over the last four years there were things I could do, things I could design that worked. So I accepted the job as a research scientist.

Your most recent work is developing Indiana's bicentennial torch for next year. What has that been like?

It's such a symbol for people in Indiana. It's a huge symbol. People will hold it in their hand, close to their head, close to other people, so you have to very, very careful about safety. Anything we do in the design is to be first oriented toward safety. We have a lot of features in the torch to make sure that if it falls, it turns itself off. When we're ready to turn it back on, we can turn it back on. The state asked us to do a high-tech torch and really the students took it to heart. I think, to some extent, we surprised our guests from the state. We have several features: a camera, following it on GPS, etc.

It's really neat. Every Thursday afternoon, I meet with some of the ECE students and my Aero students and I see them looking at the torch concepts that we have with the camera, saying: Where do we put it? How do we monitor it? How does the burner assembly in the torch interact with the systems the ECE students have?

It's very much a multidisciplinary project -- exactly like what they're going to do two months from now or six months from now when they graduate. Out in industry, this is what they're going to do.

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu 

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