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C.L. Chen accepted an endowed position in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department at the University of Missouri.

After an accomplished career working on unconventional projects for NASA and, more recently, Teledyne Scientific — formerly Rockwell Science Center — C.L. Chen accepted an endowed position in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department at the University of Missouri, fulfilling a long time aspiration.

“When I learned about this position, I immediately applied. I always one day wanted to be a professor but thought I didn’t have enough experience until now,” Chen said. “Many professors who start in academia early in their careers become expert in one area but I have a more broad perspective, including knowledge of national needs and how to work with industry.”

Chen said that after 22 years at Teledyne, he also was motivated to take an early retirement to give young engineers on his team an opportunity to be leaders. And, he said he welcomes the opportunity to delve deeper into his research field.

“I have been truly lucky to experiment with real, challenging, leading-edge problems,” Chen said. “In academia, there are many areas with problems to be solved. Here I can do fundamental research without the clock ticking.”

Serving as director of the Thermal, Fluid and Energy Lab in the MAE department, Chen hopes to expand on previous interests and projects, noting the larger scope of his research is the same, but the emphasis is more fundamental.

Chen finds inspiration for his work in the world around him. A pinecone prompted him to develop an actuator to maneuver an underwater vehicle.

The observation that placing a dried pinecone in water would rehydrate it and change the shape led him to develop a nastic actuator. The array of devices is used in the form of a smart skin with embedded membrane pumps that can make it change shape, propelling an underwater vehicle through the water with no rudder — silently. In a similar vein, he recently launched a morphing blade program funded by the U.S. Army Research Office to investigate a morphing mechanism for controlling complex helicopter aerodynamics and noise.

Noting the morning dew and the super hydrophobic response of plants led him to use electrowetting — modification of the wetting properties of a surface with electricity — to devise a novel way to for mitigating electronics hot spots and for operating the liquid lenses of photovoltaic tracking mechanisms.

His research program is progressing and he is pleased with the research assistants who are working with him, which include a senior student in the college’s undergraduate research program, a Discovery Fellow — a first semester freshman with an ACT of 33 or more — four graduate students and two post docs.

Chen is teaching a basic course on heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and is excited about a new class he has introduced this semester on fluidics of physical systems.

“I like water and fluid dynamics,” Chen said, adding that he misses the fact that Teledyne’s California location allowed him to see the ocean every day.

Chen said the Midwest’s extreme heat over the past summer has been a surprise. “But I do like having four seasons, beautiful cloud and lakes,” he said.

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