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

Master's students Emily Beckman and Ethan Plaehn were chosen for the honor by Aviation Week Network, in collaboration with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Two AAE students — Emily Beckman and Ethan Plaehn — 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).

Beckman
Emily Beckman

Beckman and Plaehn 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 design or research project.

“The passion and dedication to community service mark these winners as 20 future leaders of aerospace. We can expect them to bring fresh ideas to the challenges facing us both here on Earth and beyond our solar system,” AIAA Executive Director Dan Dumbacher, adjunct AAE professor, said in the Aviation Week press release January 13. “We look forward to following their accomplishments and how they shape the future of aeronautics and astronautics.”

The winners will be recognized March 12 during the 20 Twenties Awards Luncheon in Washington D.C. They’re also invited to attend that night’s Aviation Week’s 63rd Annual Laureates Gala, a black tie event that honors luminaries from the industry who have designed, engineered and innovated at the highest levels.

Beckman is a second-year master’s student working with Professor Steven Collicott’s group and studying slosh in small satellite conformal tanks. As satellites become smaller and smaller, creative solutions are needed for how to most efficiently store propellants. Conformal tanks — tanks that are not axisymmetric and conform to the available room in the spacecraft — are one such solution. Little is known about how propellant may slosh in these tanks, so Beckman uses a combination of physical experiments and CFD analysis to analyze the behavior.

Plaehn
Ethan Plaehn

“I am honored to have been selected as a 20 Twenties scholar and am excited to meet the other scholars to learn about the work they've been doing,” said Beckman, who was awarded a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship in 2018. “Aerospace is an exciting field, and I'm very happy to play a part in its development.”

Plaehn, a first-year master’s student who was awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2019, studies rotating detonation engines (RDEs). RDEs are a powerful propulsion method that has the capability to improve the efficiencies of air-breathing and rocket engines. Plaehn specifically is researching how different engine component geometries and propellant mixtures can affect the performance and operability of a RDE.

“I am honored to be selected as one of Aviation Week’s 20 Twenties. I know many students apply to receive this award, and many students that are not selected are still deserving of the award through their own studies and research projects,” said Plaehn, whose advisor is Carson Slabaugh, an assistant professor in AAE. “I am thankful to all of the professors, research engineers, and my fellow lab mates who have helped me at Zucrow Labs and have put me in the position to be able to be nominated for this award. I am excited to visit Washington D.C. in March to meet the other award recipients and to meet important aerospace industry individuals.”

Since 2013, the Aviation Week Network and AIAA have selected young, rising starts within aerospace and defense industry. A judging panel comprised of hiring managers, engineers and academics evaluate and score nominees on academic performance, civic contribution and the value of each student’s research or design project.

This is the fourth consecutive year AAE has had at least two students selected. Aaron Blacker, Alexis Harroun and Adam Patel were selected in 2019; Kate Fowee and Kim Rink in 2018; and Geoffrey Andrews, Julia Crowley Farenga and Emily Zimovan were honored in 2017.