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Sanjaya Takes Flight with Aerospace Inspiration

By Randall Brown. Photography by Taylor-Roman.

Devina Sanjaya

Assistant Professor Devina Sanjaya first felt inspired by aerospace engineering when she was just four years old. She had the opportunity to visit an airplane cockpit, where the pilot explained how the altitude indicator worked. The complex array of the airplane’s instruments made a deep impression on her, and her imagination was sparked by the challenge of learning more.

“Even as a four-year-old, I knew that aerospace engineering wasn’t easy,” said Sanjaya. “Not many could do it, for sure. I liked that idea, and I really wanted to be among the few who could do something unique.”

She didn’t wait long to set out on her desired path. After completing grade 11 in her home town of Jakarta, Indonesia, she moved to Auburn, Washington, as an international student in the High School Completion program at Green River College. From there, she crossed the country back and forth to earn her bachelor’s at the University of Michigan, her master’s at Stanford University in California, and then back to Michigan for her doctorate. Her most recent move was to join MABE at UT last fall.

“The MABE department gave me a unique, valuable opportunity to make my career goal come true without taking a post-doctoral position,” said Sanjaya, whose expertise is in computational fluid dynamics (CFD). So far at UT, she has taught undergraduate aerospace seminar, a professional topics class, and will teach an engineering analysis class in the spring.

“I love the interactions with students,” she said. “It’s always satisfying when I see my vision for the course come to life. It’s always the icing on the cake when the majority of the students enjoy the course and learn from it. I had many great mentors along my study, and I want to be like them now that I have the opportunity.”

Her mentors nurtured Sanjaya’s love of math and encouraged her love of engineer’s challenges, rewards, and discoveries. Her enjoyment of research can make it feel like a hobby.

“It’s a game that I play with myself to create something new or to come up with an elegant solution to a problem,” said Sanjaya. “Researchers know research isn’t always fun. It sometimes drives us crazy because we hit too many roadblocks. However, the euphoria when I make something work always keeps me going.”

The impact of her research could improve the capability and reliability of aircraft design and performance analysis via CFD software.

“While CFD is well known for decreasing the number of required wind tunnel tests during the aircraft design process, CFD itself isn’t a mature field,” she said, noting that software results often don’t agree closely enough with practical testing results. “On top of trying to improve the robustness, accuracy, and efficiency, my research also tries to introduce more automation. That way, it would take the load off engineers’ ‘busy’ work and let them be more focused on the analysis part.”

Sanjaya finds inspiration for new ideas while enjoying activities away from the computational lab. She rotates between running, golfing, and weight lifting, while also walking her Goldendoodle puppy. She also plays piano and violin, enjoys baking and cooking, building with Legos, and photography.

“I feel that having interests outside engineering and exercising help with creativity and relaxation,” she said. “It’s funny how, at times, good research ideas or new solutions often emerge while I am not sitting at my desk.”

Sanjaya carries with her the same inspiration that she experienced in her youth, exemplifying the Volunteer Spirit by sharing it with her students and colleagues.