From the time he was 4, Wilson Flores dreamed of being an astronaut. When he was ready to launch his flight path, The Ohio State University helped make it happen.
In late 2019, when NASA launched a Blue Origin rocket to research muscle atrophy in space, it did so with equipment designed by an Ohio State engineering team Flores led. And as airports get safer, they will be so through Federal Aviation Administration research Flores conducted at The Ohio State University Airport.
Flores’ journey to Columbus and beyond has been grounded in a fearlessness inherited from parents who fled war-torn El Salvador in the 1980s. In order to pursue his dreams, Flores made his own journey in August 2013 when he left his Los Angeles home for Ohio State’s campus to pursue aerospace engineering.
“Leaving California was tough,” said Flores, the first member of his family to gain a college degree. “I was looking for the support system I needed to succeed. Ohio State had that.”
On his first visit to Ohio State’s campus during goBuckeye Day—an event for admitted students who are undecided on which college to attend—Flores met Professor Jose Castro, a native of El Salvador. Castro became a mentor who encouraged Flores to take part in the many resources Ohio State offers.
Flores joined a number of student organizations and got involved in research projects. He found several opportunities through the airport, where he earned his pilot’s license and got involved in several research projects, including a linear LED lighting project that earned him national recognition.
Later, his interest in outer space and willingness to make connections outside of engineering paid off when he met Dr. Peter Lee, an assistant professor of cardiac surgery within the College of Medicine, who was overseeing biomedical students working to send artificial muscles into space to document atrophy. Flores became lead research engineer and project manager for the NASA study.
“When I came here, my mindset was: Make an impact,” Flores said. “I’ve definitely done that in many areas.”
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Across a diverse array of disciplines, Ohio State is creating opportunities for students to explore the final frontier: outer space.
“Ohio State’s comprehensive aerospace, science, public policy and other assets make it a unique environment,” said John M. Horack, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy, who was recently added to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum’s Wall of Honor.
The College of Engineering at Ohio State is among the nation’s leaders in the creation of industry-sponsored research, ranging from basic science to applied R&D.
These partnerships allow Ohio State students opportunities to work with engineers from numerous companies, including Honda, Ford, General Motors and Caterpillar.
The College of Engineering’s numerous research centers — such as the Center for Automotive Research, ElectroScience Laboratory, Simulation Innovation and Modeling (SIM) Center and the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence — are an incredible resource companies are harnessing to thrive in an increasingly competitive world.
Another gem that Fortune 500 companies are attracted to is the university airport at Don Scott Field. Not only is Ohio State’s airport a rarity among national universities, but it’s considered one of the nation’s top university-owned and operated facilities and is one of the leading general aviation facilities in the country.
Under the College of Engineering’s oversight, the airport offers education and research, supporting interdisciplinary learning and engagement. Because it is also a key contributor to central Ohio’s economic growth through the services it provides Columbus area businesses, the Federal Aviation Administration has helped fund an $873,000 study to recognize investment priorities now and into the future.
Ohio State's airport and the university's numerous partnerships with industry experts combine to give students real-world experience and extensive undergraduate research opportunities. A prime example is PEGASAS—the Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and Sustainability.
Ohio State is a founding member of PEGASAS, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Center of Excellence for General Aviation created to bring together researchers, educators and industry leaders to enhance aviation safety, accessibility and sustainability.
PEGASAS collaborates with Ohio State's College of Engineering on many projects to improve aviation safety. Students like Wilson Flores not only gain critical research skills toward becoming technological professionals, but contribute in a significant way to supporting and improving general aviation research. For example, through this collaboration, Flores was able to conduct research on the use of linear LED lighting for airport runways and taxiways, information that will help improve safety for pilots and ground operators.
Students in Ohio State's Center for Aviation Studies not only benefit from talented faculty but partnerships like PEGASAS allow for networking with aviation professionals, conducting valuable research in many areas to make the industry safer, and participating in internship programs.
Michael Chung never thought his interest in biochemistry and pre-med studies would be bring him face to face with NASA. That all changed when he walked onto Ohio State’s campus. As a freshman biochemistry major, Chung was part of the initial team to research muscle atrophy in space, under the direction of Assistant Professor Peter Lee.
The project combines two Ohio State teams: a biomedical team of pre-medical students from the College of Medicine and a team from the College of Engineering. The bio team’s goal is to develop bio-artificial muscles and optimize them so the results of the experiment can directly translate to human standards. The engineering team is responsible for prepping the hardware and related software for the payload that will go inside the rocket — a vertical takeoff and landing space vehicle that should be launched in early 2019.
Chung began overseeing the biomedical team as a sophomore and now, as a senior, is coordinating all aspects of the project.
“Space exploration has always required as much interdisciplinary efforts as possible,” Chung said. “The results of this project will be crucial in the advancement of medicine and technology that can be utilized in circumventing skeletal muscle atrophy experienced during spaceflight.
“As a freshman, I was shell-shocked a project like this could even exist, that I would be working with NASA. The faculty, the mentors, the resources — whatever you are passionate about, Ohio State will support you.”