Welcome Oliver Jia-Richards To Michigan Aerospace

Professor Jia-Richards shares his research, experience and advice for students


Michigan Aerospace is pleased to welcome Professor Oliver Jia-Richards to our faculty roster this Fall. Jia-Richards joins us from MIT, where his research in electric propulsion systems brings an important complement to the existing expertise at U-M. He shared with us his background, why he chose Michigan, and why he’ll walk just about anywhere.

Professor Oliver Jia-Richards

Jia-Richards started his aerospace career at MIT, where he began as an undergraduate in 2014 and stayed until recently finishing his ScD. In reflecting on the highlights of his career, he’s thankful to have been able to explore different matters of interest for his ScD freely and with independence, as it gave him room enough to dig deep into what he’s most passionate about.

As he explains, during one of his research meetings, he and his advisor proposed the idea to apply electrospray technology to other systems and concepts– not propulsion in the traditional sense, but to leverage the electrospray technology in alternative concepts in order to explore planetary bodies. This meeting ended up drafting a proposal sent to NASA, and this is how he started a research project. The MIT news office wrote an article on it. 

What most struck Jia-Richards was seeing the entire process of how his research ended up capturing public interest. To him, as a student at the time, this gave him validation about the importance of his work. This enriching experience with research was what made Jia-Richards choose to become a faculty member. He was keen on having the liberty to pursue his research, but also had taken up some teaching roles and enjoyed them. Becoming a professor seemed like an ideal solution. 

Today, his research is focused on trying to better understand how we use electric propulsion systems in spacecraft. It’s about electrospray propulsion targeted at small spacecraft like those of Professor Jamie Cutler. Jia-Richards first came across this topic as an undergraduate student. Although the topic interested him, over time he found that what he was really passionate about was mixing electric propulsion with space systems and control engineering. 

So, why did he choose Michigan? 

There are a few aspects Jia-Richards found interesting about U-M Aerospace. Firstly, he noted how U-M’s program rises to the top among other universities. He was also enthusiastic about U-M’s history of expertise in electric propulsion and its use in developing areas of space, research and education, as well as the opportunity to work with Ben Jorns and the amazing aero team.

He also had some words of wisdom for current students.

“Firstly, be persevering. You’re going to have bad ideas, but then you’ll have good ones. Keep asking questions and doing the work, because eventually it’ll start to make sense. Secondly, keep your sense of curiosity. Keep asking questions, challenge established processes that don’t make sense. Challenge those ideas and think about why things are done the way they are done, because this helps come up with research questions.”

During his free time, Jia-Richards enjoys going for walks anywhere he can.