Entrepreneur, mechanical engineer alumnus tackles challenges in fluid dynamics

March 7, 2019

WEST FRIENDSHIP, Maryland - John Thomas, owner and founder of M-Star Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), spends his days developing software for pharmaceutical and chemical companies to optimize their process and engineering systems.

But even with a wealth of experience under his belt, earning a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University and teaching as a professor at Johns Hopkins University, he always finds himself thinking back to where it all started – the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“Everything I’m doing today, all of it is built on the foundation I built at Penn State,” he said. “Almost every problem or challenge I face in my business, I begin with the analysis process I was taught during my undergraduate education. Those lessons never stop being important.”

A 2005 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Thomas’ company works with companies such as Dow Chemical, Cargill, and Eli Lilly to find ways to increase their efficiency and enhance their products.

Wading into the complex world of computational fluid dynamics, the vastness of his customers’ operations pose unique problems. 

“These products aren’t created by hand, they are created inside swimming pool-sized tanks with complex flow patterns and transport mechanics,” he explained. “At M-Star, we develop software so they can figure things out like how exactly they should blend this complex fluid or modify their pump design for better performance.”

Being a go-to for such large companies, M-Star CFD not only needs to be agile; it needs to constantly find better and more efficient engineering solutions.

At the helm of his company, he said, “I wake up every day and think about the hardest challenges my clients face and figure out how my software can address them.”

This is the mindset he adopted at Penn State, which has fueled his ambition. He said, “The balance of technical expertise and real-world perspective in the mechanical engineering department really breeds a culture of productive engineers.”

As his company continues to grow in size and impact, keeping M-Star on the cutting edge is his goal. And for other Penn State engineers equipped with the knowledge they need and an entrepreneurial spirit, Thomas said the future is bright.

“The challenges facing our people and planet, they aren’t going to be solved by legislative bodies. They’re going to be solved by engineers,” he said.


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Erin Cassidy Hendrick, emc5045@psu.edu

“I wake up every day and think about the hardest challenges my clients face and figure out how my software can address them.”



With more than 60 faculty members, 330 graduate students, and 800 undergraduate students, the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering embraces a culture that welcomes individuals with a diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Our faculty and students are innovating today what will impact tomorrow’s solutions to meeting our energy needs, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems. We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S.) graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at me.psu.edu.

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