Epic fail, better recovery
The most Caltech part about the story of Miles Jones' homemade wind tunnel might not be the fact that he built it, but how he responded when it turned to shrapnel.
In high school, after completing all of the math classes his school offered, Jones wasn't satisfied. So he enrolled in more math classes at the community college near his home in San Diego. And then, to get some practical experience, the mechanical engineering major started on his wind tunnel. "I like to build stuff with my hands," says Jones, who hopes for a career designing aircraft.
He printed the fan blade on a 3-D printer in multiple parts, which he glued together. But when he tested it, "it exploded and flew everywhere," he says.
Watching it fail, he says, was hard: "I spent so much time in designing it, building it, and putting it together," he says. "It was also a little scary because if one of those blades hit me it would have really hurt."
That wasn't the end of the story, though. "It ended up being actually like a bit of a learning moment because it failed and I understood why it failed," he says. "And then I redesigned it and ended up being better."
Jones, a rising sophomore, says he had to get accustomed to building back better a lot after a year at Caltech. He knew his classes would be rigorous. He wasn't prepared for the grades he actually got, though. "It's like, ‘Wow, this is not easy any more,'" says Jones, who also runs for both the track and cross-country teams. "But I was able to pick myself up, and say, ‘We're going to have to put in more effort, study more.' I might not have been so happy in the moment when I got that grade. But I look back and realize those grades made me a better student."
His advice for incoming students? Don't be afraid to fail. And don't be afraid to ask for help. Everybody at Caltech, after all, needs it.
In high school, I could just understand everything by myself," he says. "That doesn't fly here. You need to reach out for assistance.
And it's readily available, he says, from friends and faculty alike. His professors, he says, have been more accessible than he expected. "Every faculty member I've reached out to has been super-accommodating," he says. "I approached probably half of the mechanical engineering department to find a research project, and they all wanted to help me. I think they just want to see us succeed, and cultivate the same joy for research they have."
Like most Caltech students, Jones will complete a SURF—a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. He'll be working with Prof. Melany Hunt to study how cement can be used to store carbon dioxide, and to create environmental models that reflect that.
To Jones, who hopes to design aircraft with a lower carbon footprint than today's models, the work is deeply satisfying.
"It's honestly incredible to think that I'm here at Caltech doing research with such an incredible mentor on something that I'm really interested in and really captivates me," he says. "I'm just really happy to have a chance to be a part of it."