Grad Member Spotlight: Maria Choi, PhD

13 June 2016


Maria Choi, PhD

Recent PhD Grad, Aerospace Engineering, graduated May 2016

University of Michigan


While at the University of Michigan (UM), Maria was involved in the Graduate Committee of the Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE), where she served as Co-Director in 2015-2016 academic year. In this position, Maria attended lots of workshops and meetings on behalf of GradSWE to seek collaboration with other societies at UM, such as Movement of Under-represented Sisters in Engineering and Science (MUSES) for hosting faculty panels, the Willie Hobbs Moore Luncheon, and Fall Welcome Dinner—where they had more than 80 students.

Maria also served as Networking Chair of GradSWE for three prior years. As Networking Chair, she hosted numerous activities to facilitate connections among female students and faculty members. One of her biggest impacts on campus is connecting the University’s female undergraduate and graduate engineering students to other female faculty members and highly successful professionals in Ann Arbor/Detroit area. Now, the Female Faculty-Student Mixer became a tri-annual event and one of GradSWE’s biggest events. Each Semester, they invite about 100 female faculty members and post-doctorates from 10+ departments of the CoE.

Maria has been recognized for her scholastic and leadership aptitude by receiving the Epeians – Leadership Honor Society of the College of Engineering(April 2016), the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowships (NSTRF, 2011-2015) , U-M College of Engineering Distinguished Leadership Award (2014), Michigan Institute for Plasma Science and Engineering Fellowship (2013), National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (April 2011), U-M Rackham Merit Fellowship (2011).

Congratulations, Maria, on all your hard work. Good luck in your new post-grad adventure!


What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?

I earned a Ph.D. degree in the Department of Aerospace Engineering in May 2016.


Give a brief explanation of your research.

My work involves modeling of fundamental plasma processes occurring in the plume of an electric propulsion device called a Hall thruster. Accurately modeling the physical processes in the plume of a Hall thruster helps us to predict and reduce any harmful interactions between the plume and the spacecraft surface. Moreover, with detailed understanding of the physical processes in a Hall thruster plume, we can improve a lifetime and performance of thrusters for more distant space exploration missions. The goal of my research is to develop an accurate physics-based model to simulate the plume of a Hall thruster. The mechanisms of plasma transport in the plume of a Hall thruster through two approaches: (1) a kinetic approach, in this case, using the direct simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method and the particle-in-cell (PIC) method, and (2) a fluid approach, specifically, solving electron conservation equations using the finite element method (FEM).


What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?

I actually just began working at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH on 5/31 as a Research Electrical Engineer. The work I do here at NASA is similar to what I did at UM as a Ph.D. student. I hope to continue improving Hall thruster models and applying my knowledge in understanding of plasmas in Hall thrusters to develop more efficient next generation Hall thrusters.


What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time? 

I love playing a piano! I have been playing piano since I was four years old and still enjoy it. I also like to learn a new language. I am currently learning Spanish and Russian in my free time.


What’s a fun fact about you?

A fun fact about me is that I am a 4th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and 3rd degree in Hap Ki Do.


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