Carleton aerospace engineering graduate Pooja Suresh, BEng/12 (Carleton), MSc/16 (MIT), is the Manager of Research at Gastops Ltd. in Ottawa. She’s held this position for a little under a year, but her history with Gastops, a Canadian company known for producing innovative critical equipment for aviation and other industries, stretches back to her days at Carleton University as a co-op student. Coming full circle, Pooja now manages a team at Gastops which includes four Carleton co-op students. We had the chance to connect with Pooja to discuss her field and career path, fond memories of Carleton, and one special moment in particular on her first day of university.
Carleton University: When did you develop an interest in STEM- do any childhood memories stick out?
Pooja Suresh: I have been fortunate to have many sources of inspiration early on in my childhood to pursue STEM. Both my parents have an educational background in science and always encouraged me to ask “why”. Another major source of inspiration has been my uncle who is an aerospace engineer at the US Naval Research Labs. The memory that vividly stands out for me is when I visited the National Air and Space Museum with him – we spent 5 hours just in the Wright Brothers exhibit, and had to go back again the next day to see the other exhibits. Back then, I thought it was childhood fascination with flying but even today, every time I’m in an aircraft taking off, I think of all the incredible ingenuity, technology and people that come together to make it possible, and I feel proud to be a part of it, however small.
CU: What drew you to Carleton’s aerospace engineering program?
PS: The engineering programs at Carleton have a great reputation. Of the handful of aerospace engineering programs in Canada, Carleton was at the top of my list and the location being in Ottawa definitely helped.
CU: Were there professors that were particularly influential for you?
Over my five years at Carleton, many professors in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering have had a deep impact on my education. Particularly, Professor Herb Saravanamuttoo and Professor Metin Yaras – they are amazing teachers. I admired the sheer depth of their knowledge and their passion for their subject areas. They always had their doors open to me and have helped me immensely with advice and guidance not just for my courses but also for my career. They challenged and motivated me to do better and aim higher.
CU: What are some fond memories of your time at Carleton?
PS: I have a lot of great memories associated with my fourth year project, especially in retrospect. I was on the Formula SAE Hybrid race car project and I remember spending almost a whole week with the team in the shop, working around the clock and sleeping on concrete floors to get the car ready – the passion and determination was palpable and so exciting to be a part of. Unveiling the car to the university was also a proud, wonderful experience.
But my fondest memory would have to be meeting my now-husband on the first day of university during EngFrosh! Also, many of our best friends now are from our time at Carleton. I am very grateful to Carleton for bringing me together with some amazing people!
CU: How did your degree at CU help prepare you for grad school at MIT?
PS: My education at Carleton laid the foundation for my engineering fundamentals such as fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. That enabled me to dig much deeper into these core areas during my grad courses at MIT. I also found that Carleton helped me build skills on the practical, applied side that gave me an edge over many of my classmates at MIT. Team projects, especially the fourth year project gave me that first foray into research. Being able to plan and conduct research with minimal supervision is a critical asset for grad school, and I was able to adapt more easily by building on my experience from Carleton.
CU: Could you tell us a bit about the particulars of your role as Manager of Research at Gastops?
PS: At Gastops, we provide control and condition assessment solutions for rotating machinery in a variety of industries, including aviation, energy, marine, rail and mining. Our flagship product line is an on-line oil debris sensor but we also develop, manufacture and sell torque measurement sensors, turbine blade health sensors, and at-line oil analysis systems. We also provide engineering and technical services for modeling and simulation of control systems, condition monitoring and repair and overhaul.
As the Manager of Research, I lead the Research group at Gastops to find, explore and evaluate new technologies and novel applications, in order to expand or enhance our business, in response to product and market needs. I love my job primarily because of the people I work with – ranging from scientific experts to highly skilled engineers to enthusiastic, keen students – we have a dynamic and innovative team and we are trying to take a more agile approach to research that is iterative and faster than traditional research. I also love my job because of the exciting technologies we work with, such as lasers, electromagnetics, spectroscopy, artificial intelligence – the list goes on. I learn something new at work every day, both technical and in terms of management; it’s a very enriching experience.
We recently received a significant Industrial and Technological Benefits investment from Lockheed Martin – this has been a great accelerator for our research program. We are growing and pushing the limits of our products and technologies – definitely a very exciting time to be on the team.
CU: What projects are you most proud of?
PS: I first started working on our ChipCHECK product line in 2010 while I was on a 16-month co-op work term at Gastops. At the time, we had just identified a new laser spectroscopy based technology as a potential solution for the product. I did some of the initial grassroots research into the technology. When I came back to Gastops after graduation, a laser scientist and I put together the first laser lab at the company, and then worked with the development team to make the first prototype of the product. That was one of my favourite projects because I got to explore this new technology that we had little experience in, learn so much very quickly and turn that learning into building an actual, working prototype. Today, it is one of our key products that we are selling to a variety of customers including aircraft and engine OEMs, as well as airlines. And the research continues, as we work to advance it to the next generation. I have truly enjoyed seeing something we researched in a lab become an actual product in the field. And it keeps getting better!
At MIT, my research was in the exciting, upcoming area of alternative jet fuels. I was a member of the Alternative Fuels Task Force of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and enjoyed collaborating with over 50 experts all across the world to analyze how alternative jet fuels could enable meeting the ICAO targets of carbon neutral growth from 2020. As an engineer, it was a very interesting introduction to the world of diplomacy.
CU: What do you think the future of your sector looks like? What exciting developments are on the horizon?
PS: In our sector of machinery condition assessment, the trend is towards connecting advanced technologies and data analytics to provide integrated, intelligent solutions. This goes beyond just traditional hardware, and makes use of all available data as well as storehouses of knowledge. Prognostics and predictive monitoring will bring about a significant change in the way we operate and maintain machines.
CU: Why is supporting Carleton’s co-op program important to you?
PS: I have five co-op students currently on my team, four of whom are from Carleton! To me, co-op students are an integral part of our team, bringing enthusiasm and new perspectives. The students on my team work on a variety of projects and make significant contributions. For example, one of our students managed to find a supplier for a large test rig that slashed our cost in half, and another is running experiments in the laser lab on platform designs that will be incorporated into the next release of ChipCHECK. We have found the Carleton co-op program to be one of our top choices, not only because it is local, but because the students have been of great caliber and the co-op office staff are a pleasure to work with, and always eager to help us.
The co-op program is also an effective recruiting tool for us, many of our students transition to full-time jobs here, including me! We find that the extended interview period that it affords us allows us to judge fit better. I’m always happy to support the Carleton co-op program in any way I can.
CU: What advice would you offer to new graduates as they enter the workforce?
PS: As a new graduate, the most important thing is to have a positive attitude and be eager and enthusiastic to learn. Go the extra mile whenever you can and it will pay off but also remember that it’s ok to make mistakes. Accept that, and prepare for it. Be proactive. Most importantly, be a team player – that’s the best way to learn and grow in your career and as a person.