Space is Next Frontier for Goldwater Scholar's Research Interests

Thursday, April 07, 2016
Ben Stevens

Problem Solver: Ben Stevens has combined his interests in mechanical engineering and physics to develop improved mathematical models of fluid phenomena for aerospace applications.

Ben Stevens is an overachieving college student.

After all, he's majoring in two demanding academic areas (mechanical engineering and physics), has completed two research projects on campus, and examined elements of fluid mechanics during a summer research experience at the University of Alabama.

He's also contributing to keep Rose-Hulman's human powered vehicle team at a national championship level and has a near-perfect grade point average.

And, if that's not enough, he's currently studying advanced-level courses in atomic physics and quantum electrodynamics just for "fun."

Yes, as one of his professors states, "Ben's intellectual strength and thirst for knowledge is simply unparalleled."

That's why Stevens has been selected as one of this year's Goldwater Scholars, among the nation's highest honors for undergraduate students in mathematics, science, and engineering. The program provides scholarships to support students' future plans to obtain doctoral degrees. (Junior chemical engineering student Anne Leonhard was an honorable mention selection in this year's Goldwater Scholar program.)

Stevens is one of 252 Goldwater Scholars chosen this year, from a field of 1,150 nominated students at 415 colleges and universities nationwide. He is one of six Indiana college students chosen on the basis of academic merit and one of 59 engineering majors featured this year. He will receive $7,500 to cover tuition, fees, books, and housing costs for his senior year.

"I like pushing myself academically. Hard work in and outside of the classroom is the best way to learn," says the Newbury Park, California native whose parents have backgrounds as research scientists. "I find information from my current or past courses has been useful in so many areas of my college career. I'm sure that's only going to continue to blossom in the future."

Always fascinated by space, Stevens is interested in conducting research to improve the efficiencies of satellite components, especially propulsion systems, while increasing the lifetime of satellites, and yielding long-term applications toward the colonization of other planets. His interest in becoming a researcher in areas of fluid mechanics was nurtured through research projects on campus with mechanical engineering professors Thom Adams and Calvin Lui, and a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates in 2015. This research earned Best Paper awards in the 2015 International Conference on Heat Transfer and Fluid Flow (with Adams).

"Ben is a natural starter who can quickly pick up the smallest ideas in a casual conversation or lecture and apply them to solve a new problem," says Lui. "With his strong foundation on calculus of variations and tensor analysis, he can grasp abstract mathematical ideas confidently and make steady progress in the project."

Stevens' analytical skills should be further enhanced this summer during an internship at SpaceX's rocket propulsion group in California.

This marks the third time in the past six years that a Rose-Hulman student has been selected by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, following chemical engineering graduate Katherine Moravec in 2013 and mechanical engineering alumnus James Breen in 2011.