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Senior reaches semi-finals of science competition

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Written by Isaac Chen

Senior Quinn Wu recently competed against 1,700 of the United States’ top student researchers in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search, widely regarded to be the most prestigious science competition in the nation. Wu’s work in aeronautics and astronautics, funded by NASA and conducted at Stanford University, ranged from developing autonomous systems to optimizing spacecraft motion-planning algorithms. His research qualified him as one of 300 semifinalists in the Intel event, the only representative from Gunn.Quinn Wu - AT

Wu’s paper, “A Fast Marching Trees Motion Planning Approach to the Autonomous Space Taxi: Algorithmic Experiments for Proximity Maneuver and Docking,” details his unique approach to autonomous rendezvous. The FMT algorithm he constructed was proven to be more efficient and dependable than competing methods. With state-of-the-art technology, including a free-flying spacecraft equipped with eight thrusters for propulsion and a momentum wheel to enhance stabilization, Wu simulated maneuvers likely to be executed in the future by the commercial space transporters currently being developed by NASA.

Wu believes his experimentation and research brings the space technology industry one step closer to the space taxi, a concept that is quickly gaining traction in the scientific community. Last September, Elon Musk signed a $2.6 billion dollar contract with NASA to pursue the SpaceX program. This money will be used to develop a manned iteration of its Dragon capsule space taxi, which in its final state will seat up to seven passengers.

ree-flying spacecraft in motion (right), powered by compressed air with eight gas thrusters and a momentum wheel, about to maneuver around space obstructions.

Free-flying spacecraft in motion (right), powered by compressed air with eight gas thrusters and a momentum wheel, about to maneuver around space obstructions.

For Wu, the competition was both a confidence-boosting and humbling experience. Wu believes the validation in submitting the project went far beyond the monetary benefits. “It served as a validation of my research experience and my performance in it,” he said. “The school and I received $1,000 a piece, but what you take away from it really isn’t the money, it’s the experience and the knowledge that you can write a paper of actual importance to leading scientists in the field, and the respect you gain for the other researchers.”

Wu’s passion for engineering began at a young age. “My interest in engineering started when I was five years old, playing around with legos,” Wu said. “The process of building is amazing.” Since then, Wu’s engineering pursuits have become increasingly ambitious.


Close-up view from spacecraft of dodged stationary obstacle with real-time visualization on the bottom right.

His motivation to pursue science is derived from his desire to better the world. “What interests me in scientific research and engineering is the whole concept that you can engineer projects and create things that not only further our scientific advancement, but actually make a difference in the community and solve real world problems,” Wu said. “In the future I hope to use my talents in engineering to help society, in issues such as sustainability or health care.”

With the Intel Science Talent Search judges’ vote of confidence, Wu can continue his journey in science reassured that he will be able to maneuver around any obstacle.

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Senior reaches semi-finals of science competition