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Shirdish Poondru — Pulled by the Power of Turbines

Shirdish Poondru specializes in increasing efficiency, reducing noise and in general is interested in the quiet flow of things. And he just received a doctorate in the area of computational fluid dynamics, too.

Date: 6/9/2008
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Dr. Shirdish Poondru
Dr. Shirdish Poondru

The University of Cincinnati is about to graduate one of its hidden treasures: Shirdish Poondru, who receives his PhD in mechanical engineering at the June 13, 2008, Doctoral Hooding and Master’s Recognition Ceremony.

Shirdish received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University. His parents still live in India, where his father is a professor of mechanical engineering and his mother is a housewife. Shirdish’s sister is also a mechanical engineer in San Diego.

“When I was in high school, I figured I would go into engineering or medicine,” Shirdish says. “It usually trickles down to those two options.” Shirdish notes that education in India is different in some ways from that in the United States.

“In India, the classes are more lecture based,” he explains. “Here, there are a lot of hands-on labs and lots of projects, even in physics and chemistry.” Besides applying to the University of Cincinnati, Shirdish also applied to Purdue University.

“The main reason I came here was that I received better scholarships from UC,” Shirdish says. “It’s easier to get a visa approved if you have funding.” Unfortunately, since Sept. 11, 2001, international students have faced increasing difficulties in attending U.S. universities.

Shirdish could be found helping out with Dr. Ghia
Shirdish could often be found helping with Dr. Ghia's WISE program, as seen here.

Shirdish was drawn to the University of Cincinnati for its engineering programs, especially that of Urmila Ghia and her reputation in the field of computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

"Shirdish was a joy to have in our lab group. He was the kind of graduate student that an advisor hopes for, so I was extremely pleased that he sought us out," says Ghia, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the CFD Research Lab.

Computational fluid dynamics is one of the branches of fluid mechanics that uses mathematics to solve and analyze problems that involve fluid flows. Computers are used to calculate the interaction of fluids (such as gases and air) with the surfaces used in engineering. Validation of such software is often performed using a wind tunnel (like the one in the basement of Rhodes Hall). The fundamental basis of any CFD problem is the Navier-Stokes equations, which define any single-phase fluid flow.

In January 2004, Shirdish and Professor Shaaban Abdallah published a paper, “Fine-Mesh Solutions for Incompressible Navier-Stokes Equations Using the Direct Matrix Inversion Method,” for the 42nd American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit in Reno, Nev. And many other presentations followed from his PhD work. He also received the "Best Paper" award in the AIAA Student Paper Competition in 2003.

Despite his successes in the academic arena, Shirdish faced challenges when he started looking for jobs. None of the turbine companies would take Shirdish because he was an international student. Finally he got an offer from one company, ANSYS Fluent, which develops software for machines.

“I didn’t think it was going to be so difficult,” he says. “The first thing they ask is ‘What’s your status?’” He notes that most of his friends who came to the United States from his mechanical engineering program had to switch to software or other fields in order to get jobs.

“I don’t know how good it is to switch disciplines just to get a job,” Shirdish says, smiling wistfully.

After working behind the scenes of UC
After working as a grad student behind the scenes of UC's science fair, Shirdish returned in 2008 as a P&G judge.

Now that Shirdish is receiving his PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati, he will be focusing on modelling and simulation for Procter and Gamble.

“Initially I was not aware of the use of CFD at Procter & Gamble,” Shirdish says. “But it is used for optimizing manufacturing units in the production line. The application is totally different, but the principles are still the same.” With P&G’s global presence, Shirdish hopes to see much of the world through his work.

"Shirdish is very bright, enthusiastic to learn new material, extremely diligent, communicates well, takes initiative and exhibits leadership, grasps difficult concepts quickly and pursues them with uncommon zeal and perseverance," says Ghia. "He will be an asset to any organization he joins, and will shine out in whatever path he chooses. I am glad that P&G saw these values in him; I expect to soon hear of great achievements being made by him there."

Shirdish's role in the science fairs was in the tally room. Here, he returns to his roots.

Although in the last 10 years there have not been many breakthroughs in theories, there have been major breakthroughs in applications, such as new modelling techniques to address inefficiencies at high altitudes.

The modelling is done with computers, rather than experimentally, which saves time as well as money. This computational modelling capability however is limited by how much time is available on high-performance supercomputers. Shirdish relied on the resources at Ohio Supercomputer Center for all his computing needs.

“I could have graduated faster or done more work if I’d had a dedicated system here, of course,” Shirdish says. “The more processes you ask for, the lower rank they give you in the queue. So you get to be more judgmental, more selective, regarding the direction in which you want to proceed.”

We hope Shirdish will be back in 2009.
We hope Shirdish will be back in 2009.

Besides being a graduate student in mechanical engineering, Shirdish has had a firm, quiet, but constant and supportive presence throughout the college and university.

For example, he was a key planning committee member and backbone of the UC Science and Engineering Expo. Even after his studies at UC were done, he came back to judge the 2008 Expo. Shirdish originally came to the University of Cincinnati for its graduate program in mechanical engineering. His involvement in so many other activities at UC was a surprise, perhaps. Both Shirdish and UC are the better for it.

Urmila Ghia agrees. "He values relationships, all relationships – peer, social, familial, professional," she says. "I can use an unending list of adjectives to characterize Shirdish – consistent, disciplined, organized, punctual, responsible, resourceful, respectful, dependable, …. He is among the best representation of the quality of our CFD group and represents our lab as we want the world to see us."

UC's loss is definitely P&G's gain.

Shirdish’s own methodology for his supercomputer work makes a good application for life: “The important thing is not just the work you do but the training you receive,” he says. “It’s how you approach a problem, the experience you gain in doing it.”

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