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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI grad student awarded prestigious fellowship by Department of Defense

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Doctoral research to focus on design of high-speed ships

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 25, 2005 -- “High speed” is a term that fits Jeff Harris well. As a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, he is developing numerical models to help in the design of high-speed ships.

But the Everett, Wash., resident also appears to work at high speed, having earned two bachelor’s degrees by an age when most students are just graduating from high school.

“I did algebra when I was in fifth grade, did some high school work in middle school, skipped eighth grade, and did some college work in high school,” he explained sheepishly.

Now, at the ripe old age of 20, Harris has earned a prestigious fellowship to begin work toward his doctorate. Funded by the Department of Defense, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate fellowship will pay Harris’ tuition and fees for three years and provide a $30,000 annual stipend. Harris is one of just 180 students nationwide selected for the fellowship, and one of only two from colleges and universities in Rhode Island.

“This is an extremely competitive fellowship and Jeff is the only one from URI to get one this year,” said Stephan Grilli, a URI professor of ocean engineering and Harris’ advisor. “Jeff has shown excellent aptitude for independent research, and he works well and efficiently with a minimum of guidance. I think he will flourish during his Ph.D. studies into a very bright researcher.”

Harris is completing his master’s degree this fall and will begin his studies toward a Ph.D. at URI in the winter. He is creating numerical simulations of high-speed ship performance by using a numerical wave tank to simulate wave resistance on the Harley Surface Effect Ship. Harris describes the Harley Surface Effect Ship as a catamaran with air cushions under each hull, similar to a hovercraft but without flexible parts.

“Ship designers use numerical models to help them scale up the size of their ships,” he said. “For instance, how big an engine will it need? How much air flow will be necessary for the cushions? The more accurate the results of your models, the more efficient the use of space in the ship.”

When Harris completes his Ph.D. – probably ahead of schedule, if history is any indication – he hopes to continue conducting research, perhaps for the U.S. Navy or for a major shipbuilding company. He also has considered working for NASA to design space exploration vehicles.

“There are a lot of similarities between the way they do things in designing for aerospace as for hydrodynamics,” Harris said. “One way or another, I want to move things forward by being on the cutting edge of the design of things that move.”