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School of Engineering

Building scientific speculation

Tuesday, December 1, 2020
PhD candidate Colby Azersky recently spoke to students at a Bronx high school about his path in STEM.
Colby Azersky
Photo courtesy of Colby Azersky

At Bronx Arena High School in New York City, students in Mr. Cohen-Garcia’s Speculative Worlds course learn about researchers’ work directly from the source – then brainstorm “what if?” scenarios and write fiction based on that scientific foundation. The course aims to humanize scientists, spark students’ curiosity when it comes to science and engineering, and encourage students to think broadly about the world and about their own futures.

Colby Azersky, currently pursuing his PhD in mechanical engineering at Tufts University after earning his BS and MS through the School of Engineering's combined degree program, recently presented to Bronx Arena High School students and teachers about his work developing lunar lander footpad designs for NASA. “I wanted to give back to the community in a way that inspires younger students to pursue their aspirations in the field of science,” says Azersky.

Azersky is currently participating in the NASA Pathways Program while working on his PhD at Tufts. This past summer at NASA Langley Research Center, he led a team that proposed a stronger and lighter model for the lander footpads of a human landing system – a key need for NASA’s Artemis program and its goal of putting astronauts on the moon by 2024.

With that background shared, students interviewed Azersky for a follow-up discussion. “I could tell the students were engaged and thinking about how they would solve problems if they were in my shoes,” says Azersky. Students and teachers spoke to Azersky via Zoom, with students asking questions about space exploration and about how nature’s designs can inspire some of engineering’s most effective solutions. Students created innovative ideas for their speculative writing, including one student who, inspired by the idea of biomimicry, is planning a fictional world where people receive exoskeletons tailored to their occupations.

“I wanted to show the students that science is not just lines of equations on a blackboard – it’s humanity's pursuit to understand how the world works,” says Azersky. “I’m really glad I participated.”   

Bronx Arena High School is a New York City transfer high school that supports students taking non-traditional routes to graduation, and is dedicated to over-age and under-credited learners. The Speculative Worlds course is still seeking early-career researchers to present their work – any PhD candidates with interest should contact Abe Cohen-Garcia at acohen@bronxarena.org.