Dr. Cornelia Altenbuchner

  • Robotics Technologist, NASA JPL Modeling and Simulation

Member Morpheus Lab, 2010–

About Dr. Altenbuchner

Cornelia has been fascinated with technology from an early age, especially in the area of flight. Her desire is to not only advance technology in this field, but to do so in an environmentally friendly and efficient way. Her first step in achieving this goal was attending the University of Regensburg in Germany in pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree. In addition to the traditional training received at university, Cornelia completed numerous internships during her studies to gain engineering knowledge from a different prospective.  She interned with BMW in Germany, Amst System Techniques Aeronautics in Austria, and participated in a co-op program with Siemens Automotive in Germany and the U.S. where she continued working internationally after graduating from the University of Regensburg. During this time Cornelia also traveled to Ireland for a semester to work on a bio-inspired mechanical engineering research project at the Royal College of Surgeons and served 2-years as the elected officer for knowledge and technology transfer for her university.

In January 2010 she joined the University of Maryland’s Morpheus Team to pursue a PhD in aeronautics. When not pushing the boundaries of aeronautics research, Cornelia loves travelling and all things outdoors, including running, mountain biking, kayaking, and surfing. She also enjoys cooking and art.

Graduate Research

Title: Flexible Multi-body Structural Dynamic and Fluid Interaction Model for Ornithopters

When investigating bird like scales, state-of-the-art flapping-wing air vehicles are relatively inefficient compared to their fixed-wing counterpart.  Due to advantages like hover, maneuverability, and agility of flapping-wing air vehicles, it is highly desirable to further this technology to be more efficient. At lower Reynolds number regimes, studies show flapping-wing air vehicles have potential to fly in a more efficient way compared to fixed-wing vehicles. Optimal efficiency can be achieved through optimized flight gates, wing shapes, wing flexibility and wing movement. In order to develop an optimized ornithopter, an analysis tool capable of accurate predictions of aerodynamic and structural dynamic loading is necessary for improving the design and dynamics for future ornithopters. Modeling the physics of flapping wing flight is multi-disciplinary in nature and requires strong coupling between unsteady fluid and structural solutions. 

This research focuses on the development of a structural dynamic model for ornithopters. For the model, a flexible multi-body dynamics code will be used and further developed. Finite element modeling, in conjunction with a robust integration of multi-body equations, is used in order to account for the nonlinear elastic and flexible multi-body system of an ornithopter. The newly developed model is then combined with an ornithopter aerodynamic model, previously developed in the Morpheus Lab.  Validation of the combined model is done with flight data collected from Morpheus Lab ornithopters. Once validation is complete the structural dynamic model can be used to optimize the design and dynamics of our ornithopters.


  • Ph.D., Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, University of Maryland, 2014
  • M.S. Mechanical Engineering, University of Regensburg/Germany, 2008
  • B.S. Mechanical Engineering, University of Regensburg/Germany, 2007