Haripriya Sundararaju, 25, a mechanical engineering doctoral student at UH Cullen College, died Sept. 21, 2015 in Houston.
“It was completely unexpected, and a terrible shock to her parents and family, to me, and to all the UH faculty and students she knew,” said Ralph Metcalfe, UH Cullen College professor of mechanical engineering and Sundararaju’s academic adviser since 2010. “That her admirable success in reaching the pinnacle of her academic career should be suddenly cut short was devastating to me and to all of her academic associates here.”
Born March 7, 1990 in Chennai, India, Sundararaju had shown an interest in the nature of flight dynamics and engineering of aerodynamic vehicles since childhood. Many visits to the NASA Johnson Space Center and her involvement in numerous undergraduate and graduate scholastic projects fueled her passion. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston, and she was nearing completion of her doctoral degree in wind energy.
“Priya was one of our very best students as an undergraduate, earning her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and graduating summa cum laude, meaning her overall GPA was greater than 3.9, and she achieved a similar high GPA in her graduate courses before she began working on her doctoral thesis on the aerodynamics of wind turbines,” Metcalfe said. “She was an excellent role model for many of our students here, and she was the most pleasant person to work with.”
Working with Metcalfe and UH professors Su Su Wang and King Him Lo at the Composites Engineering Application Center, Sundararaju performed fluid dynamical analysis and simulations of dual-rotor wind turbine systems, an area of wind energy systems that has not yet been comprehensively studied.
In the course of her research, she became an expert on the use of computational fluid dynamics simulations, which have important applications in many branches of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Metcalfe said. Because of her background and impressive credentials, the NASA Johnson Spaceflight Center selected her for a mechanical engineering internship this semester.
“Her optimism, creativity and intelligence were an inspiration for us all,” Metcalfe said. “Priya burned bright with her sunny personality – always that lovely smile – and her academic brilliance. She will be sorely missed.”
The mechanical engineering department at UH is working to establish an endowment in honor of Haripriya Sundararaju. If you would like to make a donation to the mechanical engineering department in honor of Haripriya Sundararaju, please visit https://giving.uh.edu/eng/?dept=MEC, choose "mechanical engineering" in the drop-down menu under "I would like to make a gift to benefit the following," and type "Haripriya Sundararaju" under "Please let us know if you would like someone to designate your gift further."