High school research paper finally takes flight
A research project that licensed pilot Erik Miller ’13 started in high school has hit the big time with his recent publication in the Journal of Aircraft. It’s an accomplishment that might not have been without the encouragement of Rick Poss (Mathematics, Emeritus).
Miller began researching the effects that golf ball-like dimples would have on aircraft wing performance while a student in Wausau (Wis.) East High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program. He submitted an initial draft of a paper on his work to a half- dozen publications without success. Then he changed his academic plans from aeronautical engineering at the University of Minnesota to math and actuarial science at St. Norbert, putting the paper on the back burner.
“Since I wasn’t going for an engineering degree anymore, I didn’t feel like I should keep going with this paper,” Miller says. “The editors wanted me to make some corrections and re-cite some research, and it seemed like a lot of work.”
Erik Miller ’13 talks about the project. >>MORE
When Miller met with Poss to discuss getting into the actuarial field, the fact that Miller had earned his pilot’s license and completed the paper while still in high school came up in conversation. “Erik showed me a letter he had received from an editor that said the paper had not yet been accepted, but if he made changes a referee had suggested, it would be,” Poss says. “I don’t know if Erik understood this letter really was a ‘yes’.”
At Poss’s urging, Miller made revisions to the paper that satisfied the editors at the Journal of Aircraft. The article appeared in the publication’s July/August 2012 edition.
“In my 42 years at St. Norbert, I don’t know of any other math major that has been published in a professional journal,” Poss says.
As a bonus, Miller presented the paper at the American Mathematics Society’s conference in Madison, Wis., and earned an Outstanding Presenter Award for his efforts.
The idea for the dimpled wings originated during a conversation Miller had with a graduate student at the University of Oxford in England, where Miller spent part of the summer before his senior year of high school on an IB scholarship. The two were discussing how pillars held up well in hurricane-force winds because of the way air flowed around them.
Miller designed dimpled aircraft wings on a school computer and eventually received approval from Wichita State University to run tests in the school’s wind tunnel. While the work generated impressive results, Miller says a great deal more research is needed to determine a practical use, since the design has a drawback: increased drag at cruising altitude.
“I still think it would be useful in helping planes take off at a steeper angle during their climb,” he says. He hopes sometime in his career he’ll find an aeronautical engineering student willing to resume the research.
Nov. 4, 2012