Thursday, January 4, 2024

UTSA researcher Chris Combs explores new frontiers in state-of-the-art hypersonics lab

UTSA researcher Chris Combs explores new frontiers in state-of-the-art hypersonics lab

Chris Combs works with students in the Hypersonics Lab.


MARCH 20, 2023 — Growing up as a fan of Star Trek and all things science fiction, assistant professor Chris Combs, holder of the Dee Howard Memorial Endowed Faculty Fellowship in mechanical engineering at UTSA, always wanted to pursue a career involving rockets and space exploration.

Now, he’s living his childhood dream. Combs is currently leading a research group in his own Hypersonics Lab in the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design (Klesse College), which explores high-speed aerodynamic and compressible flow phenomena using cutting-edge optical diagnostic experimental techniques, image processing, and data analysis.

His endowed position is making much of this work possible.

“As students graduate they are going to go off and do great things with UTSA on their resumes.”

While searching for a university faculty position, Combs received many offers. But it was the Klesse

College’s endowed position that made it clear to him that UTSA was serious about space exploration and aerodynamics. He knew that this position would provide him with the resources necessary to conduct more research and work on high-level projects he might not otherwise have been able to complete.   

“With aerodynamics as a priority, I felt like I was going to have a fan base while executing my mission. There was clearly a commitment and resources available on par with top universities out there that were making offers,” said Combs.

One of Combs’ greatest accomplishments at UTSA was his work on the construction and completion of the Mach 7 Ludwieg Tube Wind Tunnel, a unique experimental facility that conducts a variety of tests at seven times the speed of sound. Notably, this type of wind tunnel is only available at a select number of American universities, in addition to a few in operation at the Department of Defense, NASA, and national lab facilities.

Both graduate and undergraduate students on his research team helped with the project and are now using the wind tunnel to conduct experiments, placing them in positions to be highly competitive in the workforce post-graduation.

Combs has also been able to use his endowment funds to pay students as interns in the lab, providing invaluable experiential learning, keeping up morale, and helping them participate in research while keeping up with their course load without needing to find outside employment.

“Research dollars also fund students in competitive positions which raises the profile of the university because we’re presenting this work, publishing it and getting UTSA’s name out there,” said Combs. “As students graduate they are going to go off and do great things with UTSA on their resumes.”

Combs is incredibly grateful to the Dee Howard Foundation for all of its support. The endowment has funded his research, his students’ experiences, and important research equipment. It has also led to the formation of a close relationship between Combs and the Howard family. Combs now sits on both the education and aerospace committees for the foundation and has even partnered with the foundation’s leadership to work on grant proposals.

Learn more about creating an endowed position at UTSA.

“It's become something that is much more than money and the endowment title. Creating an endowment is also a way to really build something with the university and with a faculty member if you have a vision of what you want to happen at UTSA,” said Combs. “It’s a really great opportunity to become integrated in what’s happening at the university and make a big impact.”

Jordan Allen

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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