By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Local student wins NASA design competition
Eilbron Younan NASA 2
Eilbron Younan stands next to an identical mockup of the Curiosity Rover during his NASA robotics competition at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. - photo by Photo Contributed

When Eilbron Younan originally joined Pitman High School’s robotic club, he had no idea he that he unofficially set off a sequence of events that would ultimately lead him to the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s design competition.

Now as a Merced College Mechanical Engineering major Younan is still beaming with pride since his return from the design competition, where his team won first place in the robotics portion that challenged teams to create a Mars rover that would independently and successfully be able to perform certain functions on the surface of the planet.

Younan reported that he initially heard about the NASA design competition from the president of Merced College’s Science, Math, and Engineering Club. Since he regards NASA as the “most prestigious organization he knows,” Younan was instantly drawn to the opportunity.

In order to apply for the competition, Younan was required to take a certain amount of science, technology, engineering, and math courses and be a United States citizen. Once completed, Younan and other applicants then had to enroll in a five week NASA online course, which consisted of modules, exams, and a final project.

Only the students that earned the top scores were invited to the NASA design competition at JPL, and Younan was one of those top students.

 “Receiving the invitation letter from NASA was truly exciting,” said Younan. “I felt like the door I’ve been knocking on finally opened.”

“This meant to me that having patience, staying positive, and putting in a lot of hard work, will always pay off,” continued Younan.

Over the course of the competition, Younan had to live life as if he was a NASA engineer, meaning that he had to deal with a number of obstacles while also simultaneously designing, building, and programming a robot to autonomously complete certain tasks.

“The interruptions consisted of group activities, such as Rubik’s Cube challenges, ice breakers, workshops, and tours of JPL, including Mission Control, which is where NASA engineers control the Curiosity Rover on Mars today,” said Younan.

Working with a team had its ups and downs, as Younan reported that his favorite part of the entire competition was working with other students that had similar interests and goals, but that keeping the team moving forward in the right direction also proved to be the biggest challenge.

“Given the short period of time and all the interruptions, we as a team had to immediately come to an agreement on all the ideas thrown on the drawing board,” said Younan. “With eight people on my team, clever design ideas were constantly introduced and we all had to determine the best path we all agreed to take.”

Going head-to-head with the four other teams during the competition only encouraged his own team to work even harder, which meant giving up sleep and collaborating after hours to excel further in the competition.

All this hard work to go above and beyond the competition ultimately paid off when it was announced that his team won the robotics competition during their last day at the JPL.

 “Eilbron Younan was an integral part of his team, helping to build and operate the team’s Mars rover,” said NASA Spacecraft Mechanical Engineer Aimee Quon. “He was a motivational leader with encouraging words for his teammates. A keen problem solver, he tackled a Rubik’s Cube challenge, helping to secure overall victory for the blue team.”

Although the design of Younan’s team’s rover is classified since the competition is offered every year, he reported that he did draw some inspiration from working on a Geo-Physics research project with Horacio Ferriz at California State University, Stanislaus.

“He informed me about galvanic electric resistivity, which is a method that allows geologists to better understand the composition far beneath a particular area,” said Younan. “After understanding that method, I integrated the same idea into my final project, and that is what I believe set my design apart from other students.”

With this new accomplishment under his belt, Younan plans to transfer to a four year state university in the fall, where he will pursue an engineering degree. Hoping to apply his knowledge towards homeland security of space exploration, he reported that he would like to either work for the United States Department of Defense or NASA.

Although he is already looking towards the future, Younan recognizes that none of his recent accomplishment would have been made possible without Roger Young, instructor of Industrial Technology at PHS, and his involvement with the PHS’ robotics club.

“My interest in engineering initially started at my high school’s robotic club,” said Younan. “During my participation in the club, our team was designed to take on a task to design, build, and program a robot and compete with it at the First Robotics Challenge at the UC Davis Regional.”

“I’m hoping that Pitman High School will recognize the potential of their students and possibly receive more funding for its robotics club,” continued Younan.