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Helen L. Reed

B.S., Mathematics, Goucher College, 1977
M.S., Engineering Mechanics, Virginia Tech, 1980
Ph.D., Engineering Mechanics, Virginia Tech, 1981

A 1984 National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator award winner, Helen Reed is a very effective researcher, recognized as a national leader in computational fluid mechanics with a particular emphasis on boundary layer stability and transition to turbulence, and in small satellite technologies with an emphasis on responsive space systems and autonomous rendezvous and docking.

Reed knew she wanted to become an engineer early in her life. Her parents were both mathematicians who worked at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. At 12, she watched John F. Kennedy’s dream of landing a man on the moon become reality. She attended Goucher College, summer interned at NASA Langley Research Center, and graduated in 1977 with honors in mathematics in three years. NASA Langley hired her as an aerospace technologist to develop energy efficient aircraft. The chief scientist at the time, Dr. Werner Pfenninger, served as a mentor and strongly encouraged her to continue her education in graduate school at Virginia Tech.

She moved to the Blacksburg campus in 1978 and was one of the few women at that time in engineering science and mechanics (ESM). She earned her master’s degree in 1980 after two years and her Ph.D. the following year. Stanford University was quick to note a qualified woman on a fast career track, and hired her as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in 1982. In 1985 in the middle of her quest for tenure at Stanford, Arizona State University (ASU) persuaded her to cross the state line, awarding her the title of associate professor, with tenure coming three years later. By 1992 she was promoted to full professor.

She moved to Texas A&M’s aerospace department in 2004 as department head and has continued her emphasis on students, creating the AggieSat Lab Student Satellite Program with additional space launches planned, including an eight-year, four-mission campaign with NASA Johnson Space Center. The impact of Reed’s work is now extending into unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and micro-aerial vehicles (MAV), as she is migrating many of these same concepts of rapid design and deployment there.

Reed is also very active and recognized as a leader in the area of boundary layer stability and transition. Accurate transition prediction is acknowledged by all in the aerospace profession as an enabler for flight over a wide speed range from high-altitude UAS to hypersonic trans-atmospheric vehicles, yet current transition prediction models are often highly empirical resulting in large uncertainties in aerodynamic drag and heating requirements. As a computational person, she has effectively interfaced with experimentalists and led in tool validation resulting in effective control methods.

Select Awards and Recognition
AIAA/ASME J. Leland Atwood Award, 2007
Fellow of AIAA
Fellow of the American Physical Society
Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers