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Three graduate students named 2019 Aviation Week “20 Twenties”

Casey Evans, Stewart Isaacs, and Jessica Zhu are honored for outstanding academic performance, civic contributions, and research.
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Left to right: Jessica Zhu, Stewart Isaacs, and Casey Evans
Left to right: Jessica Zhu, Stewart Isaacs, and Casey Evans
Photos: William Litant

MIT graduate students Casey Evans, Stewart Isaacs, and Jessica Zhu have been selected as recipients of the Aviation Week Network’s 2019 “Tomorrow’s Technology Leaders: The 20 Twenties” awards.

The awards recognize 20 students earning STEM degrees who are nominated by their universities for academic performance, civic contributions, research, or design projects. The program is part of an effort to create awareness of elements that contribute to business and academic success for technology hiring managers, students, and faculty .

U.S. Air Force Second Lieutenant Casey Evans is a Lincoln Laboratory Military Fellow pursuing a master’s degree in both the Technology and Policy Program and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). Her research centers on the technical and policy development, construction, and validation of a testbed for a novel optical neuroimaging technique that uses pulsed laser illumination and fast-gated Geiger-mode avalanche photodiode detections to resolve changes in blood flow in the brain. This modality has been considered for applications ranging from diagnosing edema, traumatic brain injury and stroke to uses in brain-computer interface.

In nominating Evans for the award, EECS Professor George Verghese wrote: “Lt. Evans fully commits to all she takes on, and has excelled academically, in her research on optical imaging systems for neuroimaging, as well as through her volunteering as a teacher to a broad spectrum of students: Air Force Academy cadets, middle and high school students, MIT employees who are English-language learners, and Madagascar residents.”

“Lt. Evans is peerless in her combination of ability, dedication, and humility,” Verghese added.

Stewart Isaacs is pursuing his master’s degree in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment (LAE). His research focuses on assessing the economic and technical feasibility of electrofuels, a novel class of non-fossil, liquid fuels with a potential to dramatically reduce transportation’s climate impact.

In nominating Isaacs, LAE director Professor Steven Barrett wrote: “Stewart has quickly learned the chemical and economic concepts required for his research and is presenting novel and solid results. At all times, his work shows highest levels of scientific rigor and deep understanding of underlying concepts.”

Barrett also lauded Stewart’s leadership activities with the National Society of Black Engineers to bring hands-on engineering experience to minority high schoolers, as well as with a project to develop a low-cost solar-powered egg incubator for poultry farmers in the African country of Burkina Faso.

U.S. Army First Lieutenant Jessica Zhu is a master’s candidate in MIT’s Operations Research Center. She is conducting research at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in the Homeland Protection Mission, area using machine learning, graph matching, and language modeling techniques to analyze dark networks to detect organizations participating in illicit and covert cyberspace activity.

Lin Li, a technical staff member in Lincoln Laboratory’s Human Language Technology Group wrote in Zhu’s nomination: “Her research will allow us to easily analyze large-scale heterogeneous datasets and identify shifts away from the norm. This approach would significantly decrease the amount of resources spent on an otherwise labor-intensive activity of manually trawling through and monitoring online markets, social media, chat rooms, and forums.”

Zhu volunteers her free time with Boston Glow (Girls' Leadership, Organized Women), and teaches with Girls’ LEAP (Lifetime Empowerment and Awareness Program). 

The 20 Twenty winners will be recognized in March at an awards luncheon in Washington.

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