Chirag Kharangate receives Young Investigator Award from Office of Naval Research

Chirag Kharangate isn’t a stranger to improvement. In fact, with the help of the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) 2024 Young Investigator Award, he’s tackling what could be a serious improvement for naval aircraft systems—developing new ways to make them more powerful. 

As it stands, current systems are plagued with a deficiency: to withstand more power they must be able to withstand more heat, but the current thermal management methods are limited. These limitations mean shorter missions that exert less power. 

“Current systems can't meet the power requirements of the future,” Kharangate explained. “They are limited by cooling capabilities.”

That’s where Kharangate comes in. The assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering’s research generally focuses on energy efficient systems and cooling technologies with applications that are relevant for space and defense purposes. To do this, he hones in on phase change—when matter changes from one state to another. 

For example, a laptop relies on a fan to keep it cool, newer electric cars on liquid cooling using antifreeze, but refrigerators and power plants rely on evaporation and condensation, a type of phase change that makes the food storage system much more efficient than the liquid cooling system of an electric car.

“Phase change allows you to extract much more heat from a system without increasing the temperature,” Kharangate explained. “You take a few orders of magnitude more heat using a refrigerant for cooling versus when using traditional liquid cooling and do so without increasing the temperature.”

But, newer systems are not as straightforward to design as a refrigerator or a power plant because they place significant limits on size and volume while increasing power needs. The widespread implementation of systems like this on a larger scale is limited by the understanding of the physics occurring at smaller scales. 

“Because of the complex mixing and phase change happening, traditional tools, like computational simulations, cannot really predict performance behavior,” Kharangate said. “And we can’t rely on doing experiments for every different test case. So physics wise, it’s important to get a better understanding so that we can have some optimized design tools that are generalizable instead of having to test every iteration.”

With the award from ONR, Kharangate will turn to data science and machine learning to gather insights on two phase flow instead of relying on traditional techniques, something his lab has already had success doing. By using image analysis tools, they have extracted statistical information of flow behaviors and to take it one step further, the ONR project will involve physics-based training of the models, making machine learning “smart” even when limited test data is available, according to Kharangate.

For the last three decades, researchers have relied on traditional approaches, but Kharangate said that if using machine learning is successful, it could be “a paradigm shift” in how future tools and systems are designed.

“The final aim is to improve these design tools so naval engineers can design their aircraft systems to be more efficient,” he said. “They would be less weight, less volume, more compact and have long endurance and duration.”

The Navy isn’t the only industry that could benefit from the ability to safely manage more heat.

“If I can understand the physical phenomena better, we can do many things with it,” Kharangate said. “We can design better systems for a number of industries.”