Engineering friendlier skies

Impact through partnerships

Aerospace engineering student finds second home on Ohio State campus

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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Creating lasting connections

As a professor of integrated systems engineering, Jose Castro is an expert on polymer processing and composites manufacturing. As a native of El Salvador, he understood the culture change Wilson faced. The relationship that blossomed made all the difference.

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Power of Partnership

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.

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An unexpected venture

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.”

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Whether you're planning to conduct research in outer space or inspire and celebrate diversity, you'll find the support to make it happen at Ohio State. Ginette Rhodes is another student who found her place at Ohio State.

Read Ginette's Story View All Stories