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30 Under 30: Aaron Birt

By SME Media Staff

Aaron Birt has been nominated “as much for what he will do in the future as for what he has already done in the past,” according to Diran Apelian, director of the Metal Processing Institute. “In many cases, the future is perfectly tied to past actions. In few other young individuals that I know is this truer than in my PhD student, Aaron Birt. He is one of those individuals who when asked about plans for the future simply tells me he plans to ‘change the world."

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Aaron Birt
Age: 26
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, MA

Aaron graduated with honors in mechanical engineering from Lafayette College and then began his education at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, obtaining first a master’s of materials science and engineering degree before beginning his PhD in 2014. During his MS studies, he published two peer reviewed papers, two conference proceedings, and presented at more than 10 conferences. He discovered unique connections between the thermomechanical processing of laser-assisted cold spray (LACS), a high velocity solid-state spray process, and the microstructure of Ti-6Al-4V consolidated with the technique.

Aaron has excelled at identifying innovative technologies and integrating them into existing processes to increase efficiency or effectiveness. Though he is a materials scientist by training, his insights are not limited to that field. In addition to his PhD thesis, he has started research into a technology that could completely alter the way lithium ion battery cathodes are manufactured. Aaron has already filed a provisional patent, won a $40,000 Massachusetts Technology Transfer Award, built a team to do the research, and started the research process in earnest.

Working with IPG Photonics, he developed a program that guided IPG toward a study of experimental machine learning algorithms and how they might enhance and reduce the time required for the overall optimization process of a new material application. IPG Photonics was sufficiently impressed to sponsor his PhD thesis on the topic. Aaron quickly discovered that there were far too many experiments and samples in the program for one person to undertake. Rather than despairing, Aaron made a few modifications to the experimental plan, and then went out and recruited 15 undergraduate students to work with them. He then went on to hire three to five paid interns for every summer on the project, guiding them in various aspects of the work-scope and technology.

Beyond academia, Aaron has given back to the organizations around him that have helped bring him success. He has participated as a student board member of both the Heat Treating Society and ASM International where he offers advice about how these societies can direct student interest within their organizations. He has chaired programs in The Venture Forum, a local Worcester-based entrepreneurship group for several years where he has grown their 5 Minute Pitch contest to more than 40 local applicants and 200 attendees.

He has also worked with his doctoral advisor to co-advise one of WPI’s Major Qualifying Projects, where a team of undergraduates was tasked to design and develop a new high-pressure, mass flow controlled, multi-material powder feeder for LACS—something that doesn’t exist in the industry at this time.

Aaron has identified several career choices lying ahead of him, but whether in academia, industry, or government research he relishes the opportunity to endeavor down the path of maximum impact.

This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.

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