Grad student earns SMART scholarship working with AFRL

Posted: May 10, 2022

For many engineering graduate students at The Ohio State University, summer break doesn’t mean slowing down. It’s a new opportunity.

Electrical and computer engineering student Luke Chen is on a career journey after graduation. Not only will he spend the summer working toward that goal, he plans to spend his next four summers at the Air Force Research Lab in Dayton studying electric machine and drive design.

In 2022, Chen won a Department of Defense scholarship providing four years of full student financial support. AFRL will also host his summer internship over the next four years, after which he is guaranteed a full-time role upon earning his Ph.D. The award he received is the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-for-Service Program.

Chen said his future plans involve pursuing power electronics research, specifically in electric machines and drives, with a secondary focus in control.

Since the  beginning of 2021, Chen has been working with Kevin Yost at AFRL at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base getting hands-on experience.

“Kevin introduced me to this program and helped me a lot with a very strong recommendation,” Chen said.

Many Buckeye engineering students studying power electronics first developed a fascination with the power of jets and race cars early on.

“I fell in love with motorsports when I was young. I was, and still am, a big fan of Formula 1. Something about developing the fastest cars on the planet and racing them fascinates me,” Chen said. “My dad would also always take me to air shows and science museums when I was young. So, my curiosity about STEM was always there. And this is why I decided to go into engineering for college.”

Chen said his time at Ohio State has involved taking advantage of opportunities, or “happy accidents,” whenever they are presented.

The graduate student is working under ECE Associate Professor Julia Zhang. He started by taking her undergraduate ECE 3040 class, during which she talked about career paths in ECE, as well as research and graduate school opportunities.

“In the first class,” Chen said, “she announced she was looking to hire undergraduate students to help in the lab, and I figure it is a nice way to earn a bit extra money while going through the semester. So, I applied and here we are today, two years into my Ph.D. pursuit.”

After earning his Ph.D at Ohio State, Chen plans to become an expert in electric machine design and continue his career working in industry or at a national lab.