orion heat shield

UAH alumnus Tal Wammen (('16 MS Mechanical Engineering) pictured in front of the Orion Crew Capsule heat shield that flew in space December 2014.

Tal Wammen

Tal Wammen ('16 MS Mechanical Engineering) an alumnus of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) was recently awarded a 2017-2018 Belgian and Luxembourg Fulbright Grant.

The prestigious award will allow Wammen, a post-graduate student to study, research, and lecture in Belgium at the renowned Von Karman Institute (VKI) for Fluid Dynamics.

VKI is a not for profit international, educational and scientific organization for member nations of NATO, specializing in three engineering fields: aeronautics and aerospace, environment and applied fluid dynamics, turbo machinery and propulsion.

"Tal’s application checked all of the boxes for Fulbright. Not only did Tal present an original and highly compelling research project that received effusive praise from the VKI where he will conduct his work in Belgium, but he also demonstrated a strong commitment to Fulbright’s mission of promoting mutual understanding through engagement in the host community. He will be an excellent cultural ambassador for the US and for UAH in Belgium," said Dr. David S. Johnson, Associate Professor, Director, Global Studies Program and Campus Advisor of the Fulbright Student Program.

While attending UAH, Wammen centered his coursework around fluid dynamics, specifically compressible aerodynamics and high-speed flows.

"I will be at VKI for fluid dynamics research. Specifically, I will be working in the high-speed wind tunnels division testing their hypersonic shock-tube facilities," Wammen said. "These test facilities produce extremely high flows, some reaching almost 14 times the speed of sound.

"This area of work is similar to what I studied in my master’s program at UAH, so it will be a good experience to see things from an experimental point of view compared to the numerical theory I learned in my coursework," Wammen said. "I will actually get to validate some numerical programs I developed in one of the classes I took with Dr. Chang-kwon Kang (Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), so that will be really exciting."

Wammen also took courses from Dr. Jason Cassibry (Associate Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) on compressible aerodynamics and hypersonic flow. Both of these classes really piqued my interest. "I always wanted to pursue an international research project of some kind, so I read more about the Fulbright Program online and approached Dr. David Johnson and began developing a proposal that would allow me to perform research in the field of high-speed aerodynamics in an international setting."

"It was an honor to serve on the committee which vetted Tal's application for the Fulbright grant. Tal is a very bright young man and had an outstanding application," said Dr. Jason Cassiby, Associate Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. "One of the unique attributes of this opportunity is the requirement that the application conduct cutting edge research and show evidence of immersing in the local culture. Tal's combination of hypersonics research at the VKI, and repairing violins under the guidance of a renown Belgian artisan clearly made his application competitive. We are all very proud that he is representing UAH abroad," Cassibry added.

Wammen completed UAH's non-thesis program on a part-time basis while working full time at NASA as an experimental facilities engineer. The group he worked with managed various facilities, group laboratories, and test stands at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

A native of rural northwest South Dakota (Reva), Wammen's family are fifth-generation cattle ranchers, with some portions of the business revolving around hunting and outfitting.

"I owe almost all of my successes through the years to my parents and two brothers," Wammen said. "Ranching is a very hands-on lifestyle, and it requires a very specific work ethic to be successful. Though it can be difficult, it is extremely rewarding in that it provided me with skills that are not too common in today's workforce."

He became a certified pilot nearly five years ago. "Flying is a not only a hobby back home, but it is also used frequently as a utility to check on the well being of cattle and security of our land as our ranch is located in such a remote area. I learned how to fly from my father, who was taught to fly from my grandfather, so aviation has been a family interest for many decades."

Wammen didn't plan on a career in engineering until it was nearly time for him to graduate from high school. "I was always interested in math and science in high school, though I never really made plans to go into engineering until I began applying for college my junior year of high school. My parents were very supportive in helping me decide on engineering as a major."

His senior high school class at Harding County had only 17 other classmates. "It was a very tight-knit community. I attended and graduated from The University of Wyoming (UW) where I obtained a bachelors degree in civil engineering in 2013 before moving to Huntsville."

While an undergraduate at UW, Wammen participated in a NASA cooperative education program, and was offered a full-time job upon graduating. "During my final co-op term, I contacted Dr. Jeff Evans (Assistant Professor of Engineering) in the mechanical engineering department to discuss possible graduate opportunities, and he provided information as well as multiple facility tours which encouraged me to apply to UAH. I was accepted into the graduate program in the spring of 2013, and when I moved to Huntsville for work I began coursework in the fall." Evans passed way on May 11, 2014, after a brief illness.

"I had a great experience at UAH," Wammen said. "Though most graduate programs are more in-depth than undergraduate programs, I felt much more engaged in the coursework at UAH. I had a great relationship with the faculty in the department. I took as many classes as I could from Dr. Cassibry and Dr. Kang, as I very much enjoyed their teaching style and the course material offered."

Wammen said he has been "blessed" with the opportunities presented to him over the years. "I definitely attribute that to my continued education." He plans to return to NASA next summer and continue working as a test engineer in the propulsion test laboratory. Wammen will also pursue a doctoral degree in engineering, with hopes of teaching at the collegiate level, either as a full-time professor at a university or possibly an adjunct professor if he continues working with the government.

"Ultimately, I plan to return to the family ranch after I finish my engineering goals," Wammen said. "It holds a special place in my heart, and I look forward to working alongside my brothers to continue our family's work."


Dr. David S. Johnson