Brent Tweddle, a PhD candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Space Systems Laboratory, has spent the last five years leading a project to design and build a pair of eyes that will enable the SPHERES satellites on board the International Space Station to see moving objects, such as asteroids and disabled satellites.

His efforts paid off earlier this year when the VERTIGO (visual estimation and relative tracking for inspection of generic objects) goggles made their way to the ISS, where astronaut Tom Marshburn installed them under direct space-to-ground instruction from Tweddle.

“To see it go from a back of the napkin design to building it and training astronauts on it has been a huge thrill,” says Tweddle, adding that when the goggles were launched into space from Kazakhstan “we were crossing all our fingers and toes”.

Tweddle won this year’s Boeing Engineering Student of the Year award at graduate level in recognition of his “truly exceptional academic, research and professional skills”, said the judges. “Brent led the development of a robotic research system that has successfully operated aboard the ISS, demonstrating use of new vision-based algorithms never before tested in space.”

Brent Tweddle

This years winner Brent Tweddle

His work includes a number of “space-firsts” which could eventually be used to learn more about asteroids and to repair failed satellites. “The algorithmic contribution of Brent’s PhD thesis enables simultaneous localisation and mapping algorithms to work for tumbling and spinning objects in a space environment, a novel and significant addition to the current state of the art of these algorithms,” said the Boeing judges.

Winning the award is “a huge honour”, says Tweddle, who is one month away from finishing his PhD. “Recognition goes a fair way – it helps to validate that you’re doing stuff other people think is important.”

Tweddle has already been offered, and has accepted, a position as a guidance and control engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where he will work on hazard avoidance and landing systems for the 2020 Mars Rover. He will take up his new role in February 2014.

As somebody who has “always kind of been excited” about anything related to space and computers, Tweddle says that working in a field which allows him to put these two topics together “was a natural fit for me”. He is also keen to go into space himself in the future, although he recognises that he will face stiff competition: “Anyone who works in this field would like to go into outer space one day but the odds are tough right now. I’ll throw my name into the astronaut corps and see where it gets me.”

Tweddle has won a number of other scholarships and awards, including the 2011 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Guidance, Navigation and Control Award and Best Student Paper at the AIAA Guidance, Navigation and Control conference.

Undergraduate Level

Güliz Tokadli, an undergraduate student at Istanbul Technical University, has conceptually designed a next-generation Functional Flight Display (FFD) which she hopes will be incorporated into air traffic management initiatives, such as the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme and its US counterpart, NextGen.

Tokadli says she “didn’t believe it” when she heard that she had been selected as the winner of this year’s Boeing Engineering Student of the Year Award at undergraduate level. “This feels very different for me because I haven’t had any personal awards before,” she says.

The FFD designed by Tokadli displays optimal flight paths on the screen as tunnels of boxes in the sky. Tokadli says the main aim of her design is “to decrease the workload of the pilot and also to increase situational awareness, because air traffic density is increasing day by day”.

Tokadli’s interest lies in the human factors side of the equation, as demonstrated by her graduation project – Human Factors and Human-Machine Interface Design in New Generation Cockpits – which includes recommendations for further research into resolving human factor issues associated with adding synthetic vision to the FFD.

So keen is her interest in this area that Tokadli plans to head to the USA to begin studying for a master’s degree in aerospace engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, where she will focus on human systems integration. After her masters, Tokadli says she “will go on to do a PhD, or work in a sector related with human factors”. She lists Boeing and Airbus as examples of companies she would like to work for in the future.

Tokadli is originally from Ankara and hopes to return to Turkey to pursue her career once her studies outside the country are completed. “I want to study abroad and then come back to Turkey if there is a company that is associated with and interested in my topic,” she says.

Honourable Mentions

Yan Li

Yan Li, a PhD candidate at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, has received a graduate-level honourable mention at the Boeing Engineering Student of the Year Awards for her new take on fracture analysis. During her studies, Yan Li has taken a novel look at how microstructure can activate different fracture mechanisms to influence the toughness levels of metallic and composite material structures. The Boeing judges were impressed by her “innovative research”, which resulted in a framework that makes it possible to predict material fracture toughness by analysing the levels of deformation, damage and different failure mechanisms.

Caroline Bryson

University of Alabama Huntsville undergraduate Caroline Bryson caught the judges’ eyes for her leadership role in a team that developed a microgravity random-access stowage and rack system for use in a deep space habitat. Bryson, who will graduate this year with a bachelor of science degree in nursing and engineering, received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category of the Boeing Engineering Student of the Year Awards. Earlier this year, she also won a competition run by the Science Applications International Corporation for her response to a case study examining how technology can help efforts to provide humanitarian aid.