Sam Noles '23: Cornell Rocketry Project Teams leader credits AEP for technological and leadership skills

Sam Noles works with Cornell Rocketry Project Teams members.
  • Hometown: Montgomery, NJ
  • Applied and Engineering Physics, Advisor: Professor Jeffrey Moses

Sam Noles, 2023 B.S. in Engineering Physics graduate
Sam Noles, 2023 B.S. in Engineering Physics graduate

Why Cornell, and why AEP in particular?

I came to Cornell for its engineering program, the engineering project teams and the beautiful campus. I initially thought I wanted to major in mechanical engineering, but I found my interests extended beyond that. After taking Mechanics and Special Relativity and Engineering Quantum Information Hardware, I realized that physics and math are the underlying commonalities among my broad set of interests. AEP seemed like the best way to develop a strong physics and math foundation while developing more hands-on skills through project teams.

What were your notable accomplishments during your time at AEP?

I have been very involved with the Cornell rocketry project team, and have been the leader of this team for the past two years. In 2022, for the first time in three years, we competed for the Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico. I am proud to have led my team in competition to win 11th place overall out of 150 teams. We are going back this June to compete again!

Sam Noles (right) with Cornell's rocket at the 2022 Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico.
Sam Noles (right) with Cornell's rocket at the 2022 Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico.

Sam Noles awaits launch.
Sam Noles awaits launch.

I am also grateful for the unique challenge of leading a team of 45 undergraduates in building a 14-foot rocket every year. I could not have been successful in this role without the broad technical background that AEP gave me. Gaining a strong foundation in mechanics, electronics and software from AEP was critical for me to understand all systems on the rocket and ensure they integrated correctly. Leading a team of 45 students also gave me invaluable experience in project/budget management and interpersonal conflict resolution, and it taught me a myriad of other lessons.

A specific project that I worked on recently is a sigma-point Kalman filter for my team’s rocket. A sigma-point filter is a method of sensor fusion and state estimation for systems with non-linear dynamics. It combines all the sensor measurements (accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, barometric altimeter) and the dynamics of the system to calculate a best estimate for the position, velocity and orientation of the rocket as well as uncertainties in those quantities. Sensor fusion algorithms like this are used widely in aerospace and robotics and are the primary way any autonomous system knows where it is.

Finally, I tutored physics for the Learning Strategies Center for five semesters while in AEP. Students are invited to submit optional feedback for the tutors, and among my proudest accomplishments were the multiple times I received positive feedback about my tutoring.

When you reflect on your time in AEP and at Cornell, what stands out?

The times I spent with friends struggling through problem sets and working late on projects.

What advice to you have for students considering research in Applied Physics?

Take initiative and don’t wait to be told what to do. Learning how to identify, research and solve problems independently is a vital skill that does not get taught in classes. Finally, it never hurts to learn more math than you think you need to; you never know when it might come in handy.

What’s next?

I enjoy spending my free time outside hiking and fishing. I also enjoy long road trips to new places in the US—in fact, this summer I’ll be driving cross country for the second time, returning to Varda Space Industries, a company founded by Cornell alum Will Bruey AEP ’11, M.Eng. ’12. I did an internship there in the summer of 2022, but this time I’ll be working in a new position as a Vehicle Test and Integration Engineer, focusing on orbital manufacturing.  From there, I don’t have definite plans, but I know that my AEP experience will help me in whatever I decide to do.

At the 2023 graduation, Sam was awarded the Trevor R. Cuykendall Memorial Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement, and the Paul L. Hartman Prize in Experimental Physics for Excellence in Experimental Physics.

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