National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Howard Liles

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA
B.S. Mechanical Engineering, May 2010

NASA Academy Research Project:
Magnetic Gear Test Rig

Principal Investigator:
Paul Solano

Goodwater, AL


Personal Statement:

I am greatly interested in machine design, propulsion systems, and advanced robotics. I am fascinated by new and innovative technology. For example, often times when I see a new mechanical product, such as the souvenirs one finds at career fairs, I simply have to examine it and figure out how it was designed. I particularly enjoy creating mechanical devices, systems, and mechanisms to effectively solve problems or improve upon existing concepts. Furthermore, learning about the new initiatives and projects during my previous research project at NASA Glenn Research Center has intrigued and inspired me. I am very interested in the potential directions that NASA may take to renew its exploration objectives on the moon and outer space. I would be delighted to help take on the challenges of lunar surface exploration, lunar energy production, and propulsion for launch vehicles and deep space exploration.

I have also previously done a little work in industry, having interned for GE Transportation. While this provided me with a very educational experience on the business aspects of engineering, I personally feel that my interests lie more along the research side of engineering. In some of my undergraduate classes at MIT, I have had the opportunity to design and build a mechanical system to accomplish a particular goal. I took great pleasure in this task and was able to exercise and develop my critical thinking, solid modeling skills, and foresight in the design process. Most specifically, I enjoy the problem solving and designing process that one undergoes to meet technological goals. I love the challenge of combining my engineering knowledge, intuition, and creativity while working with others to develop and produce conceptual designs.

Based upon what I gained from these experiences, my goals are now to eventually work in research and development for either NASA, the U.S. government, or other companies such as GE Global Research that are particularly relevant to my fields of interest. I anticipate that by participating in the NASA Academy Program, I will be able to explore how my interests connect and apply to real-world research. Hopefully, this will provide me with further insight into the world of cutting-edge research and development and will allow me to better shape my future career plans.


I feel that my unique background experiences have prepared me for the challenging and perplexing field of research. Having grown up in rural Alabama I was exposed to a lot of basic agrarian tools and technology. I used chain saws, axes, machetes, and splitting mauls to perform farm tasks and cut firewood for my grandmother during the winter. While performing these tasks I would constantly problem solve in various scenarios such as: determining the shortest and least troublesome path when wheel-barrowing loads, cutting wood in ways that maximized my mechanical advantage, and in general always looking for ways to save time and work more efficiently. During these experiences, I also learned the value of hard work and determination, both of which are often necessary to complete difficult endeavors. I was exposed to basic shop tools (saws, drill presses, etc.) and automotive machinery while taking the classes Agricultural Sciences and Automotive Technologies at my high school. It was here that I became very familiar with machining and simple manufacturing. I believe that these experiences, which I have further refined at MIT, help give me a very valuable intuition and feel for the basic mechanical engineering processes that come up every day in the lives of researchers where individuals are always questioning and evolving their views and efforts.

Future Goals:

I plan to pursue an advanced degree in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech so that I am best prepared to apply my knowledge and skills to the fields of robotics, alternative energy, and machine design. Obtaining this degree in mechanical engineering will allow me to better focus my creative and analytical skills and apply them more effectively. Ultimately, I hope to be a greater resource to the world that we live in as I endeavor to pursue my passion of creating devices optimized for answering the needs of consumers and everyday people.