Mechanical engineer Julia Lintern applies her creative powers to everything from puppets and clothing to cars and planes.
These days, Lintern’s job is to make sure planes are safe, from take-off to landing. As a member of the reliability-engineering department at JetBlue, she uses math to predict a range of time when aircraft components may fail. She uses Weibull and Montecarlo analyses to predict planes’ random failures and performance vulnerabilities. She also calculates metrics that quantify how the airline is performing.
One of the things Lintern is currently working on is capturing data from the black box (the flight recorder inside an airplane that is meant to survive accidents). Lintern analyzes the data for specific parameters, such as fuel pressure. Sometimes, however, not every bit of data comes through, and she has to devise an estimate for the missing data. For this she applies interpolation methods.
In high school, Julia took physics and calculus at the same time and says that her teachers made sure the students knew that they were learning something special. In her physics class her teacher did many in-class demonstrations and, she says, “it was suddenly clear that things started clicking for me because so much overlapped with the calculus.” Before this realization, calculus had felt like something completely separate from physics. She says her teacher made the classes exciting and difficult. In one experiment, physics students had the opportunity to design a spring-loaded mousetrap car.
Lintern has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toledo. After she graduated, she stayed in Ohio to work for General Motors and then took a job in Atlanta at Delta Airlines, where she was able to apply her knowledge of stress analysis to the aeronautics industry.
At Delta, she reverse-engineered designs for Boeing, a major American airplane manufacturer. Lintern was tasked with dealing with corrosion, the gradual deterioration of metals, as well as bird strikes. She repaired the structure of airplanes, working on their wings, fuselage and empennage (tail stabilizers). Lintern was on-call for Delta day and night.
Three years later, after 9/11, she decided she wanted to pursue more creative work and moved to New York City.
In New York, Lintern, who had made puppets for an artist in the past, designed costumes for a few plays. She went to the Fashion Institute of Technology for fashion design, attending a part-time evening program. After this was no longer financially workable, Lintern decided to get back into engineering. However, as non-HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) mechanical engineers are not in high demand in New York, Lintern moved into aeronautical engineering and got her current job at JetBlue, whose professionals are based in Long Island City.
Lintern recently finished her masters in Applied Mathematics at Hunter College, but before enrolling, she had a business making coats. Instead of using traditional sizing, she asked her customers to give her exact measurements. Lintern would then adapt each coat’s size so that it would fit exactly right for the buyer. She used similar triangles to fix the sizing for collars and sleeves.
“I still have this desire to meld the creative and visual worlds with the science world,” Lintern says. There are so many more subjects than just fractals and sacred geometry (the beauty of symmetry) that allow us to unite the “wealth of the left and right brains.” Lintern thinks there may even be room to create new fields which combine math and scientific analysis with artistic creativity.