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Pratt & Whitney opens $1.1M TurboLab aerospace center in Mayagüez

Pratt & Whitney, dedicated to the design and manufacture of aircraft engines, inaugurated its $1.1 million TurboLab, its first aerospace center of excellence in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean after almost three years of planning and development.

The laboratory is in the Antonio Lucchetti building in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (known as the RUM, in Spanish). This initiative seeks to train students and faculty in concepts relevant to the aerospace industry, in aerospace engineering (gas turbines, controls and embedded systems, and computer-aided design.)

“This initiative is very important to be able to trace a real path so that young people can dedicate themselves to what they are passionate about,” said Josy Acosta, general manager of Pratt & Whitney Puerto Rico.

“TurboLab opens the door for students to experience first-hand innovation in the aerospace industry,” said Acosta, who is also a graduate of the RUM.

“Combined with curricular sequences, professional collaborations, internships, co-ops and opportunities for students who are curious and interested in the space area, TurboLab becomes a practical and effective incubator of high-caliber local talent,” she said.

The RUM has historically had collaborations with Pratt & Whitney, and in the search for how to strengthen and amplify collaborations, Sheilla Torres-Nieves, associate professor at the RUM’s Mechanical Engineering, who headed the college’s Center for Aerospace and Unmanned Systems Engineering (CAUSE), the epicenter of aerospace activities at the campus — along with Emmanuel Arzuaga, José Colóm and other professors — presented a proposal to Pratt & Whitney in 2018-2019 for the new center.

After more than 20 visits by Pratt & Whitney experts and meetings to understand the current needs of the industry and those of the future, they were able to design a solution both in terms of physical plant — what today is the laboratory — and in curriculum with course sequences focused on aerospace engineering.

“When graduates started in the workforce, they had a lot of knowledge of the specific engineering they specialized in, however, they didn’t possess the background in other areas,” said Torres.

“For example, they were very knowledgeable in mechanical, but not software engineering, or a lot of electrical, but not mechanical. So, the solution was to design something that could produce highly trained students and create a pipeline for the aerospace industry,” she said.

“A space for cross training where students can be exposed to other areas of specialty and achieve multidisciplinary competence. We have created minor concentrations or curricular sequences of 15-18 credits, where students can have a focus on disciplines leading to an aerospace major,” said Torres.

The TurboLab can be used both for the offer of these courses and as a research laboratory since the best students learn is with hands on experiences, solving problems and developing concrete plans,” said Torres.

The space that today is the Turbo Lab was a storage, a place that served as a warehouse for things that had no purpose at the time for almost 30 years. With the help of campus architect, Torres was able to project on the walls of the empty space what would be her vision of the place, where the tables would go, where the turbines would be located, and thus convinced Pratt & Whitney executives that turning a storage into an aerospace laboratory was possible.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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