Nathan C. L. Knisely

Ph.D.A.E. 2016

What is your next adventure? I am moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts to work as a systems engineer/architect for the Systems Sciences Architecture Directorate of Draper Lab.  The moving van comes May 23.

What are you most looking forward to in your next adventure? I'm excited to be moving to a new city, with new places to explore and a totally different culture. I know I'll be doing some UAV and GNC stuff, but, on top of that, Draper is doing some structural changes, reassessing what projects it wants to take on and how it's going to do that. I'm excited to be joining them at a time when they will be changing. It will be great to be a part of that.

Do you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area? I've done two research projects through the ASDL. The first one, a Grand Challenge, looked at how to integrate an unmanned vehicle [UAV] into the national airspace. I worked directly with the FAA official who is writing regulations that will shape unmanned travel in the future. We were looking for emergent behavior -- changes in the airspace, chaos -- that would give us an indication of what technology and what regulations should be applied.  As the program manager, I translated what the FAA wanted for the technical team.  In the second research project, for the FAA's Joint Planning and Development Office, we put together an agent-based model that looked at what conditions would be optimal if five, 10 or even 15 percent of the vehicles in our national airspace were UAVs. Again, we were focusing on information that would help regulators define the safest, most efficient regulations. For my dissertation, I worked on a constrained optimization methodology that would allow aircraft designers to use cheaper commercial off the shelf (COTS) technology without compromising safety or efficiency. I worked on an optimal design refresh plan that tells engineers when the COTS parts need to be replaced.

What about your educational experience at GT-AE helped you to achieve your goals?Georgia Tech, and the Aerospace Systems Design Lab in particular, are the perfect balance between industry and academia. I interfaced directly with sponsors - not through my professors, but directly. That doesn't happen everywhere. You can see the hard work you do in the lab get applied directly to a sponsor's project. The work you do can mean you write a paper and get to present at a professional conference. I was co-author of two papers, and I was able to present. The fact that I work hard is one thing. But the fact that Tech allows me access to so many opportunities is phenomenal. 

What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your path? I would have to say my number one piece of advice is: get comfortable outside your comfort zone. Get comfortable feeling a little awkward, asking questions, seeking advice. Grad school's the time to do that, because you're surrounded by people who, even if they're not saying it, they're feeling it, too. You will come out of it a lot smarter. And the next time, it'll be less awkward. Thing number two is: engineering is great, it's awesome. It makes the world a better place and that's great. But do other things while you are here.