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Three AAE students selected as "Tomorrow's Leaders: The 20 Twenties"

Aaron Blacker, Alexis Harroun, and Adam Patel were chosen by Aviation Week Network, in collaboration with AIAA.
AAE senior Adam Patel
AAE senior Adam Patel

Three AAE students — Aaron Blacker, Alexis Harroun, and Adam Patel — have been selected as “Tomorrow’s Leaders: The 20 Twenties” by Aviation Week Network, in collaboration with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Blacker, Harroun and Patel were identified as the top aerospace-bound students from an international field of highly qualified candidates. The final selection was based not only on academic performance but also on an ability to contribute to a broader community and to communicate the value of their research or design project.

AAE grad student Aaron Blacker
AAE grad student Aaron Blacker

“This year’s 20 Twenties winners reflect the passion, ingenuity, and remarkable talent found within the aerospace community,” AIAA Executive Director Dan Dumbacher, adjunct AAE professor at Purdue, said in the Aviation Week press release. “As they make important contributions to their fields of study, they are also working to make the world a better place. These students are not just ‘shaping the future of aerospace,’ but also that of humanity, and each is uniquely worthy of this honor.”

Blacker is a second-year master’s student working with Professor Bill Anderson to study lifted flames in a traverse-unstable rocket engine combustor. The goal of Blacker’s thesis research is to develop non-visual indicators of flame position in rocket engines that may ultimately enable design and performance improvements in orbit-class engines.

“I have read Aviation Week and Space Technology since high school, and the bios of each year’s 20 Twenties have inspired me in my own quests to impact the future of aerospace. I am truly honored and excited to be named one this year and to represent a legacy of Purdue aerospace research in rocket propulsion and space exploration, more broadly,” Blacker says. “I would like to thank my family, friends, and past professors for their endless support, as well as Dr. Anderson for nominating me for this award.”

Harroun is a second-year master’s student working with Professor Stephen Heister. Her thesis research focuses on designing aerospike nozzles to improve the performance of rocket rotating detonation engines, a promising alternative type of rocket propulsion technology.

AAE grad student Alexis Harroun
AAE grad student Alexis Harroun

“I am really excited and honored to be chosen for the Aviation Week’s 20 Twenties award,” Harroun says. “I would like to thank all the people who continue to support me, including my parents, all of my professors, and my advising professor, Dr. Heister, for nominating me.”

Patel, a senior, is specializing in propulsion and aerodynamics. His focus is on electric propulsion, specifically on developing a novel low-energy surface flashover igniter subsystem for pulsed plasma accelerators in the Applied Plasma Science Lab under Alexey Shashurin, an assistant professor in AAE.

“I am beyond honored to receive this prestigious distinction,” Patel says. “I would not be in this position without Professor Shashurin and Professor (Waterloo) Tsutsui, and I am incredibly grateful for their guidance.”

The winners will be recognized during the 20 Twenties Awards Luncheon and at Aviation Week’s 62nd Annual Laureates Awards on March 14 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The latter is a black tie event that honors luminaries from across the industry who have designed, engineered, and innovated at the highest levels.

This is the third consecutive year AAE has had at least two students selected. Kate Fowee and Kim Rink were selected in 2018, and Geoffrey Andrews, Julia Crowley Farenga, and Emily Zimovan were honored in 2017.