Burton retires from teaching; continues research
It started when he was a boy, and he and his cousin, Jont Allen, now an ECE professor, first performed “experiments” with rocket propulsion (one nearly led to the death of a garage). Former AE Department Heads Mike Bragg and Wayne Solomon both can tell stories of how Burton’s endless visions over the years for reaching beyond the stratosphere were limited only by the money needed to make them happen.
Even now, as he officially retires from the AE Department, the ideas keep coming.
He and AE Prof. Victoria Coverstone are working on putting solar sails on two CubeSats – nano satellites that are 10 cm. on a side. The “UltraSail” is made from shiny, metallic-looking plastic material, similar to that used for celebration balloons. The theory is that sunlight pushes the sail material, causing the satellites to move in orbit. But, says Burton, “No one’s yet gotten them to fly.”
Burton and Coverstone are working on the project with ECE professor Gary Swenson, as well as a collection of graduate and undergraduate students. The project is a contract of CU Aerospace, a partnership Burton has formed with Coverstone, Solomon, Bragg, AE Prof. Scott White and AE alumnus and former AE instructor David Carroll.
Burton also will be working with Gary Eden, another ECE professor, on a micro thruster project. The electric device uses neon gas as a propellant and, at a fifth the size of typical thrusters, should be more efficient to operate.
Furthermore, Burton has a student project – the Illini Space Jet 1/10 scale rocket-launching airplane that can be seen on YouTube.
So, although he will no longer be teaching in the classroom, Burton will continue with research. His smiling face will still be seen for the years to come in the hallways of Talbot Laboratory.
Burton first came to AE at Illinois in 1989 after leaving Alexandria, Virginia-based GT-Devices, where he had been Director of Space Applications for eight years. Prior to that he spent 16 years in positions including research engineer at Princeton University (where he had earned both his bachelor’s degree and PhD); senior scientist for JAYCOR in Alexandria, Virginia, and for Dutcher Industries in San Diego, and assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California-San Diego.
In the past 20 years at AE, Burton has accomplished a great deal:
• Has earned many teaching and advising awards throughout his career, including frequent appearances on the Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked Excellent and the College of Engineering Advising Award
• Earned the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 1996 Best Paper Award
• Has published three book chapters and over 150 journal and conference papers
• Has received substantial research funding throughout the years, especially from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
• Has advised 21 master’s degree and 13 PhD students
• Has provided superb service to the department, including eight years as Associate Head and one year as Interim Head.
Burton continues to act on behalf of the Department. In lieu of retirement gifts, he has requested that friends and colleagues instead donate to the AE Outstanding Graduate Student Fellowship Fund. About $1,300 has been collected in his honor.
As he considers his tenure in AE, Burton points out that the Department has made considerable progress in terms of faculty, students and research dollars. He looks forward to observing and participating in even further success in the future.
The 12-year-old kid in him that experimented in his garage is easy to imagine when Burton enthuses, “Aerospace is as exciting as it ever was: There are so many things left to discover!”