Josh Chabot '13 and his adviser, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering May-Win Thein, pose with the fruit of three years' labor: a tabletop NASA satellite simulator that will be used to analyze the dynamics of real satellites soon to be orbiting Earth.
As a boy, Josh Chabot’s Christmas list always included something he could take apart – an old VCR, say, or a microwave from the local Goodwill. Last month, the senior mechanical engineering major won a prize for something he’s spent the past three years putting together: a tabletop NASA satellite simulator that will be used to analyze the dynamics of the real satellites soon to be orbiting the Earth.
On April 24, Chabot and his project teammates Mike Johnson ’13 and Joe Kelley ‘13 received the prize for best mechanical engineering project at the UNH Undergraduate Research Conference-Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (URC-ISE) symposium, prevailing over some 26 other project teams and 120 fellow mechanical engineering majors. For Chabot, the award was the capstone on a remarkable college career he’d never imagined unfolding at UNH.
Raised in Manchester and the son of two UNH graduates, Chabot laughingly admits he had no desire to attend his parents’ alma mater – where his father, Guy, studied civil engineering, and his mother, Susan, majored in biochemistry.
“I always knew I wanted to study science or engineering, but I also knew I wanted to do it someplace other than UNH,” he says. Accepted at several other schools with strong engineering programs, it came down to a question of money; in addition to its more affordable in-state tuition, UNH also offered Chabot generous scholarship support. “I had a hard time accepting that,” he admits. “I’d lived my whole life in New Hampshire, and even though I knew UNH had done well by both my parents, I really wanted to forge my own path.”
Fortunately, Chabot quickly realized he could forge his own path right at UNH. Freshman year, he signed up for a piano class to continue the lessons he’d started at the age of seven, joined the Campus Recreation rock climbing club, and immersed himself in his engineering prerequisites. By sophomore year, he’d connected with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering May-Win Thein, who immediately recognized him as a bright, hardworking, creative student, and invited him to participate in her ongoing NASA satellite navigation research.
Since the fall of 2010, Chabot has been part of a team of students helping Thein create a small-scale simulation of a 12-foot-wide NASA satellite with an unusual feature: 200-foot-long flexible booms that affect the way it moves in space. In the past two years, Chabot’s team’s work on the project – the dauntingly titled NASA Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) Mission TableSat 1C – has led to the publication of two papers under Thein’s guidance, as well as presentations at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and conferences in South Carolina and Hawaii.
Under Thein’s mentorship, Chabot, Johnson, and Kelley have devoted multiple semesters and countless hours to refining their satellite simulator, which, as the URC-ISE prize reflects, today represents an accurate scale model of the NASA original. The next step will be to use the model to answer questions about the way the boomed satellite moves as it orbits the Earth – a phase of the project that will take place after Chabot , Kelley, and Johnson are no longer at UNH. Such is the nature of collaborative undergraduate science research.
“Of course, it would be nice to be able to take it to that next level ourselves,” Chabot says. “But it’s still pretty exciting to know that it will happen and that all our hard work is going to yield useful information.”
As for Chabot’s next steps, in the fall, he’ll be starting a master’s program in aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, though he’s not sure yet if his long-term plans include a doctorate or a position in industry. And while he’s excited to finally forge his own path, he says he’s leaving with a greater appreciation of what New Hampshire – and UNH specifically – has to offer. “I couldn’t be happier about or more appreciative of what UNH has done for me,” he says. “It’s been an amazing experience.”
Not to mention an enduring one. In addition to his parents, Chabot’s younger brother Zack is also a proud Wildcat – a civil engineering major, varsity runner, and a member of the Class of 2015. Indeed, while Chabot’s future may very well lie among the stars, his roots will remain deep in the Granite State.
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