International postdoc continues research into space exploration at UK

Photo of Raghava Davuluri. Photo provided.
Postdoctoral scholar Raghava Davuluri. Photo provided.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 18, 2024) — When he first arrived in Lexington and at the University of Kentucky from India in 2011, Raghava Davuluri didn’t quite know what to expect. Continuing his education by pursuing a master’s degree and then his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at UK, Davuluri had no way of knowing that more than a decade later, he would still call UK home as a postdoctoral scholar and be part of a team conducting innovative research in thermal protection system and atmospheric entry.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Lexington,” said Davuluri. “But I immediately felt welcome. The people were incredibly friendly, both in the community and at the university.”

The transition to UK as an international student was difficult at times, but faculty mentors and peers helped him push through and get acclimated to a different mode of learning.

“When I first started my program, it was tough to adjust to the coursework," Davuluri said. "It’s a bit different in universities in India, where there are fewer projects or assignments. It was hard to adjust to doing more assignments and working on various things all at once, but my faculty and fellow students helped me get used to this method.”

As a Ph.D. student and now as a postdoctoral scholar, Davuluri conducts research that is crucial to the present and future of space exploration.

“The end goal of my lab’s research is to determine the basics of the thermal protection system based on the particular space mission,” he said. “This system is particularly vital for atmosphere reentry. I spent my time as a doctoral student developing numerical models to determine this. We would get a bit closer and a bit closer and continue to refine the results. It’s been great to continue that research as a postdoctoral scholar and see the results of this research.”

Davuluri also completed two internships with NASA during his time as a student. In his second internship, he worked to expand on recent research by NASA into backshell radiation during Mars atmospheric entry.

“I was grateful to be involved in high-level research at NASA during my internship. I was tasked with using experimental data to check a new numerical method to see what would produce the best results for the Mars 2020 mission. My research at the time proved incredibly beneficial to me in solving this particular problem.”

Now, as a postdoctoral scholar, Davuluri has taken on more of a leadership role, serving on the leadership team of the Society of Postdoctoral Scholars, a volunteer-run organization of postdocs at UK who assist current, past or incoming postdocs with career advice, professional development and networking opportunities. 

He has also become a mentor to students in his field. 

“It’s been amazing to go from being the one who is always asking questions to my faculty and mentors here at UK to being someone who gets those questions from undergraduate and graduate students,” he said. “That transition just happened suddenly, but I am always glad to help a student with a research problem or help them find their way if I can."

Davuluri’s time at UK has instilled in him a passion for academia, and he hopes to continue in that field moving forward.

“I really enjoy the research, and the teaching aspect as well," he said. "My current role, I think, has given me more of an understanding about what it means to guide students in their own research and learning. I hope to keep going on this path. My time at UK has been amazing. I’ve been grateful to continue my research and teaching here. It’s instilled in me a greater passion for academia, and I look forward to a long career as an academic and researcher in my field.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.