Meet Robynne Murray
Research engineer Robynne Murray likes the outdoors, water—especially snow—and waves. "I grew up really close to the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, right on the beach," Robynne says. She also grew up on skis, adding "My parents claim I was skiing before I could walk" going to Maine and British Columbia on ski trips with her family. She discovered snowboarding as a teen. "I loved it," she says. "It's the adrenaline rush, the speed. And the feeling of being free, making turns in deep snow. A playfulness—it's hard to describe."
It may seem inevitable that she would be drawn to Colorado's mountains—but that's not what happened. In fact, before she came to Boulder for an NREL job interview, she knew little about Flatirons or the surrounding area. "I hadn't spent much time in the States," she says.
Robynne had been studying tidal energy and composites manufacturing and testing as a graduate student, a passion inspired by her home. "I saw the tides every day, so I was very excited about the idea of harvesting tidal energy." As a mechanical engineering graduate student, she worked with universities in Scotland to learn more about harnessing tidal energy, and became interested in the manufacturing of blades for water energy turbines. At an energy conference in Nova Scotia, she met NREL Senior Research Fellow Bob Thresher, and their conversations sparked a joint project. In January 2017, she arrived at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) as a postdoc. It was then she learned about the world-class snow sports and opportunities for climbing and mountain biking nearby. "It was an awesome surprise," she says.
Water for Study and Play
"When I first started at NREL, I worked primarily with the water power team" in the Marine and Hydrokinetic (MHK) Energy Research area. Her expertise in composites led to her involvement in wind turbine blade manufacturing research. "Wind blade manufacturing research is exciting," she says. There are plenty of challenges. "One project we just started is on thermal welding of turbine blades. Most turbines are made in several components and glued together. We're looking at ways that we can fuse the blade together by welding thermoplastic resin composite components."
Robynne, who works closely on an "awesome" small manufacturing research team, sees a lot of potential in this manufacturing area. "We are trying to figure out the best processes to use to make those bonds and then compare them to adhesive materials that are currently used in the wind industry." That's not all. In spring of 2018, having become a full-time engineer, she's tackling other projects including building medium-scale wind turbine components, and testing them to validate material properties of a new thermoplastic resin system. She also hopes to construct a 13-meter wind turbine blade using a thermoplastic resin and test it at the NWTC's structural test lab. "That way, we can compare the thermoplastic blade to tests done previously on an identical epoxy blade." Such a possibility will be "really fun and a lot of hands-on work." Furthermore, she's formulating proposals for her "big dream" of combining her love for manufacturing and MHK energy together in composite manufacturing research and testing. "That's my big dream, to mesh those two worlds together."
She's enjoying time on the mountains. She's bought season ski passes to various mountains, and when the snow is good, she's on the slopes every weekend snowboarding. But she may return to skiing. "It's a lot easier to get into the backcountry on skis" she says.
And that desire is foundational for her life. "I think there's a connection between really enjoying being outside and feeling that you have a duty to protect the environment," she says. "So, developing renewable energy systems seems to support all of my outdoorsy endeavors."
While just beginning her career, Robynne says she could see herself at NREL in a decade in some capacity. The mountains, of course, would provide an anchor—but so would her love of the lab. "NREL is the gold standard for renewable energy research," she says. "It was always a dream for me to end up here."