Published June 7, 2018
Chris Gnam wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to major in when he came to UB. He began in the biology department, then moved to mathematical physics, but didn’t feel that either of those fields was the right choice for him. But after watching the New Horizons space probe arrive at Pluto in 2015, he had a revelation.
“I literally called the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences that day and began the process of transferring into the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering,” says Gnam. “I knew that’s the type of thing I’d want to be involved with.”
This March, Gnam was named a 2018 National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program fellow, which provides a stipend that will allow him to focus his attention on his education and research. He was chosen for his academic performance and because his research, which involves implementing “a computationally efficient and robust attitude determination and control system for the LinkSat spacecraft,” closely aligns with that of NASA’s.
For the past two years, Gnam has worked with John Crassidis, Samuel P. Capen Chair Professor and founder of UB’s Nanosatellite Laboratory (UBNL). Gnam previously served as program manager for UBNL and now fills the role of Senior Attitude Determination and Control Lead. He has also assisted Mostafa Nouh, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, at the Sound and Vibrations Lab, and fulfilled an internship at NASA Johnson in 2017. He heads to NASA Goddard this summer for another internship.
Crassidis explains that Gnam’s varied background—namely in physics and engineering—makes him unique in the field, and provides a solid reason for why he received this prestigious award. “Chris’s physics education puts him at a different level than most engineering students,” he says. “He has a great combination of fundamental theory (from physics) and knows how to apply that theory to practical engineering applications. He’s got all the right tools to do whatever he want to do, whether it’s research or academia.”
When asked how he feels about being named a fellow, Gnam explains that he’s always been passionate about space, but that working in the field didn’t feel possible, describing it as similar to attaining a career as a professional athlete. “But working at UBNL and interning at NASA, and now winning this award, have really opened my eyes to the fact that it is an achievable dream. This award has solidified all that and I know that I’m on the right track.”
This August, Gnam will be co-presenting a paper he co-authored with Grant Iraci, a student in UB’s Department of Computer Science, at the AIAA’s 32 annual Small Satellite Conference. Entitled, “An Open Source Radio for Low Cost Small Satellite Ranging,” the paper will be published among the conference proceedings. He will graduate this coming fall with a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering, a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics, and a minor in physics.