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STARKVILLE, Miss.–A team of Mississippi State students is top winner in a category of an American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics regional competition.

The university group recently placed first in community outreach at the AIAA Region II Student Conference. MSU now has won the community outreach award for the third consecutive year.

In addition to the team win, senior member Eric D. Robertson of New Orleans, La., finished second in the undergraduate division.

Robertson was among approximately 20 MSU students taking part in this year’s competition at North Carolina State University. The Region II event drew more than 170 participants from 16 institutions of higher learning around the Southeast.

“Space Cowboys” is the name of the MSU’s rocket team. Accompanied by their frog puppet, “Goddard,” they have engaged in outreach activities with kindergarten to 12th-grade students throughout the year. The puppet is named for U.S. space pioneer Robert Goddard.

As part of the Space Week observance last month, team members filmed three instructional videos covering rocket safety and construction. They then distributed the videos, along with rocket kits, to the schools they visited for presentations about rocketry and spaceflight, Koenig said.

“The goal is for students to have fun while learning and to spark an interest in science,” according to a Cowboys PowerPoint presentation that describes their mission.

Robertson’s winning research paper was titled “Two- and Three-Dimensional Laminar and Turbulent Flow Simulations Using OpenFOAM.” He is the son of Daniel Washington of New Orleans.

Robertson said OpenFOAM is a computational fluid dynamics code that enables aerospace engineers to simulate aerodynamic flow around objects.

“Many cars and aircraft have been tested using CFD, and it helps us optimize these designs in pursuit of efficiency,” he continued. “This field is emerging because it is much, much cheaper than running physical experiments.”

Robertson’s work has proven especially relevant to his research team led by Keith Walters, a mechanical engineering associate professor at the campus Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.

“The second place win was big for me because I had worked long, late hours at the High Performance Computing Collaboratory trying to get high-fidelity results from this code,” Robertson said. “I began as an undergrad having never done anything so complicated in my entire life.”

Robertson said he plans to continue his education at MSU after he graduates in May. As a graduate student in mechanical engineering, he will continue working with OpenFOAM.

“I hope we can make a name for MSU by contributing something major to the OpenFOAM community,” the Bayou State resident said.

For more about MSU aerospace engineering, visit http://www.ae.msstate.edu or http://msuspacecowboys.org.

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