The sky’s the limit for Independent Science Research student Hughes ‘23

The sky’s the limit for Independent Science Research student Hughes ‘23

Max Hughes '23

Thayer senior contributes to research paper on morphing airfoil 

Helicopters move very well vertically but can’t travel long distances. Airplanes travel long distances but can’t move vertically. Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft promise the best of both worlds, but optimally transitioning from stop-rotor (helicopter) to fixed wing (airplane) presents a formidable engineering challenge. 

Max Hughes ‘23 accepted that challenge and spent a good deal of his summer trying to square that circle. He now has second-author status on a research paper and a presentation at an international scientific conference to show for his effort. 

As part of his Independent Science Research (ISR) course, Hughes obtained an internship in the BioInstrumentation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Working with doctoral student Kristan Hilby of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Ian Hunter, PhD, the Hatsopoulous Professor of Mechanical Engineering and head of the BioInstrumentation Lab, Hughes worked on the design of a morphing airfoil — in layman’s terms, he figured out the best way to get a helicopter-type blade to change between rotation and fixed configurations. Hilby, Hughes, and Hunter then authored “Design and Analysis of a Novel Reversible Airfoil Mechanism,” which was presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace Conference this month in Big Sky, Montana. 

Hughes credits the Academy’s ISR program — which introduces students to primary research opportunities in scientific laboratories to prepare them for summer internships in lab settings — for helping him to understand what scientific research looks like; he calls reading the dense language of research papers “an acquired skill.” Hughes also credits the program for teaching him how to define his useful skills for would-be employers and dealing with the frustration when some of those would-be employers decline the offer. 

“I wouldn’t have known that this (the MIT internship) was a possibility if I hadn’t taken the ISR course,” says Hughes, “and I wouldn’t have persisted in getting the internship.” 

But Upper School Science Department Head Don Donovan, who runs the ISR program, gives the lion’s share of the credit to Hughes himself. 

“Max is such an amazing person and an incredible and personable academic. I think he and this accomplishment should be celebrated by all of the community,” says Donovan.

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