Jillian James, an aerospace engineer at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and a graduate student in MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro); Sophia Yakoubov, a cryptographer at Lincoln Laboratory; Samuel Udotong, a senior in AeroAstro; and Kathrine Bretl '16, a recent AeroAstro graduate, were among the 20 students worldwide selected by Aviation Week Network as "Tomorrow's Engineering Leaders: The 20 Twenties."
Sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the 20 Twenties recognize the top science, technology, engineering, and mathematics undergraduate and graduate students for their academic excellence, the research and projects they undertake, and their contributions to the broader community. The 20 Twenties were honored during Aviation Week's 59th Annual Laureates Awards on March 3 at the National Building Museum in Washington.
"These three traits — knowledge, inquiry, and contribution to society — are those things that aerospace and defense leaders have found to be most important in solving some of society's toughest problems," said Greg Hamilton, president of Aviation Week Network.
According to Sandy Magnus, AIAA executive director and former NASA astronaut, this year’s honorees are "making significant contributions to their fields of study, ranging from cryptology, to autonomous systems to propulsion, as well as working to make the world a better place. Their research is shaping not only the future of aerospace but also the future of humanity."
James first came to Lincoln Laboratory as an intern in summer 2009. She joined the Space Systems Analysis and Test Group the following year, after graduating from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the Space Systems Laboratory through the Lincoln Scholars program, which provides funding for full-time graduate study at Boston-area universities.
As a staff member, James has been working on a satellite development program. Her efforts have ranged from analysis and design to hardware and software testing. She also enjoys encouraging the next generation of engineers and scientists by helping run events such as the "Wow! That's Engineering!" workshop for girls and mentoring students for the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Recently, as comaster of ceremonies, she welcomed high school students from around the world at the Zero Robotics Finals Competition held at MIT. Student finalists at Zero Robotics had the opportunity to see their code run in space, using small robotic "satellites" called SPHERES (for Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Satellites) operating inside the International Space Station.
Yakoubov joined Lincoln Laboratory's Secure Resilient Systems and Technology Group after graduating from MIT in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics with computer science. In January, as a Lincoln Scholar, she completed a master's degree in computer science at Boston University. At the Laboratory, Yakoubov has been working on a variety of projects related to computing security and privacy. Specifically, she has been developing new secure multiparty computation techniques. She is also an active participant in several of the laboratory's educational outreach initiatives, serving as a mentor for CyberPatriot (a network defense competition) and as the designer and lead instructor of LLCipher (a math-based, theoretical cryptography workshop).
During his four years at MIT, Odotong has demonstrated a strong interest in exploring the capabilities of drones. He has worked on projects ranging from creating an autonomous aerial MIT tour guide to aerial deliveries of items to a stage during MIT Campus Preview Weekend. As a freshman, he cofounded the MIT UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] Team, and has continued his involvement in the drone community on campus.
Bretl spent seven months during her senior year as an undergraduate researcher at the Institute or Soldier Nanotechnologies, a team of MIT, U.S Army, and industry partners who are working on materials, devices, and systems for the protection and survivability of soldiers. The specific project she worked on was the design, fabrication, and testing of a helmet that could mitigate concussions. Bretl's other undergraduate internships included summer assignments at NASA Johnson Space Center and NASA Langley Research Center.
Aviation Week Network, a division of Penton, is the largest multimedia information and services provider for the global aviation, aerospace, and defense industries. The 20 Twenties awards were established in 2009 in partnership with Raytheon Company.