Dr Tamara Sopek is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Hypersonics Group at the Oxford Thermofluids Institute. Hypersonics is the study of very fast and highly energetic flows encountered by space vehicles, planetary probes and air-breathing engines called scramjets.
Dr Sopek's expertise lies in hypersonic ground-testing in high-speed facilities such as shock and expansion tunnels, where she uses laser diagnostics to measure flow properties and study aerothermodynamic phenomena. She also uses computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to simulate these flows.
Describe your career path to date
My career in aero sciences started at the University of Zagreb, Croatia, where I graduated with a Master of Aeronautical Engineering in 2009. After that I completed a Research Master (MSc) at the von Karman Institute (VKI) for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium in 2011. This is where I first started with hypersonics research and decided that is what I wanted to do in life. I then moved to Australia where I did a PhD at the Centre for Hypersonics at the University of Queensland, graduating in 2018.
Some of my professors and senior colleagues were an inspiration to go into and continue in the area of high-speed flows and laser diagnostics.
Who or what inspired you into your field?
I have to say it is all those scientists and engineers that made things like space missions possible. Some of my professors and senior colleagues were an inspiration to go into and continue in the area of high-speed flows and laser diagnostics.
What contribution to your field are you most proud of and why?
My PhD work resulted in the first successful single-test scramjet temperature measurements which were obtained using an advanced optical diagnostic technique called laser-induced fluorescence. This method allows temperatures typically present in a combustion environment to be measured non-invasively and in short-duration test facilities where test times are in the order of milliseconds. The availability of a thermometry technique that provides temperature from a single run of a test facility is especially appealing considering the significant per-shot costs of running high enthalpy facilities.
I love that every new answer, even to a small problem, provides another building block for a larger group of people to better understand phenomena we are studying.
What aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
Since I was a child, I enjoyed doing puzzles. I see research like that - every problem is another puzzle to solve and getting an answer to a question, coming to a solution of a problem, gives me joy and a sense of achievement. I love that every new answer, even to a small problem, provides another building block for a larger group of people to better understand phenomena we are studying.
What do you see as being the next big thing in your field?
Nonintrusive measurement techniques, if we want to properly characterise hypersonic flows.
Find the strength and courage within to follow what you love and want to do in life.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
I'd say just go for it. Find the strength and courage within to follow what you love and want to do in life. It may be hard at times, but it is possible and it is so worth it.
From an interview by AeroDynamic Women @AeroWomen, reproduced by kind permission.
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