Aerospace engineering student advances to international competition

Nick Deitrich.

Nick Deitrich, winner of the 2021 American Society of Mechanical Engineers Old Guard Competition, will take part in the international competition in November.

By Nicole Capozziello

This fall, University at Buffalo aerospace engineering student Nicholas Deitrich will compete against students from around the world at the International Old Guard Competition, held during the International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition (IMECE 2021). 

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"Nick's attention to detail and technical content are exceptional and were reflected in his project and presentation."
Javid Bayandor, associate professor
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Deitrich earned a spot in the international and final leg of the competition by recently winning first place at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Old Guard Competition. His award-winning oral presentation pertained to the Venus Sample Return Mission, a unique project seeking to bring atmospheric and soil samples from Venus back to Earth in one launch only. 

“Nick's attention to detail and technical content are exceptional and were reflected in his project and presentation,” says Javid Bayandor, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the CRashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Lab. "We’re proud that Nick is now a member of one of our NASA research teams at CRASH Lab, while also working as an intern with NASA Langley Research Center since the beginning of the spring semester.”

Deitrich hails from Pearl River which is north of New York City. “This was the first time I presented by myself in an engineering competition. Working alone helped me tell a technical, cohesive, and comprehensive story about my Venus sample return research,” he says.

Deitrich’s recent presentation has roots in a larger team project that started in fall of 2019, as a part of Bayandor’s Space Mission Design class. Under the mentorship of Bayandor and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) colleague Steven Matousek, Deitrich and other team members worked on developing a sample return mission to Venus, a topic of great interest to NASA and JPL. Once the class was complete, the team of students continued their research project as part of the CRASH Lab.

In spring of 2020, Deitrich and team member Laura Garcia Insa reported their mission work in a highly technical paper and submitted it to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Region I Student Conference. Despite the conference not being in person as one of the first events affected by the COVID restrictions, Deitrich and Garcia Insa’s paper came third in AIAA Region I, which includes universities from 14 states in the northeast. 

They continued polishing their work, and submitted a ten-minute video presentation to the 2021 AIAA SciTech Forum and Exposition in January. Following AIAA SciTech, Deitrich refurbished the technical paper and presentation, and at Bayandor’s suggestion, entered the prestigious national Old Guard Competition, held during the ASME E.Fest (Engineering Festival).

“The event was virtual like the other two competitions, and students from universities all across the world participated in the Old Guard Competition,” says Deitrich. “I practiced by giving my presentation during the weekly CRASH Lab meeting and to one of Dr. Bayandor’s Master’s courses. I had given this presentation many times before, and I was comfortable while presenting and answering questions from the judges.”

“Nick is a highly intelligent, detailed-oriented and determined researcher,” says Bayandor. These qualities were recognized by the Old Guard judges, who also awarded him the prize for Best Technical Content. The culminating event, the International Old Guard Competition, will take place at IMECE 2021 in November.

“In the next few months, Nick will start preparing himself for this major international event, in which winners from different continents will compete in hopes of receiving one of the top prizes,” says Bayandor. “The CRASH Team and I will eagerly follow his journey during the competition.”

In 2019, another CRASH Lab team, Shapeshifter, whose work focused on an exploration mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, also took first place at the national Old Guard Competition, and went on to win first place at the International Old Guard Competition.

studnets and advisor pose for group photo.

CRASH Lab’s Shapeshifter Team, from left to right: Frank Slawinski, Maeesha Zaman, William Meyer, Celina Liang, David Cumminskey, Javid Bayandor (Advisor), Jacob Thiesen, Alex Matta (Advisor), Shmuel Shollar, and Ashley Hudson.

Every fall, the team projects in Javid Bayandor’s Space Mission Architectural Design course provide unique opportunities for students to work directly with NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory experts.