• YEAR: Senior
  • MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering Technology
  • HOMETOWN: San Antonio, Texas

Dahlon Lyles

Father-and-son discussions about inexpensive ways to launch objects to the moon sparked an interest that has stuck with Dahlon Lyles. Now a senior in mechanical engineering technology, Dahlon continues in his quest to build unique methods for sending items to space. His work has even gained national attention.

Like father, like son

Dahlon's interest in research began at an early age. While he was in elementary school, Dahlon would visit his dad in the lab and look through the microscope and help draw pictures of whatever objects his dad was examining.

Dahlon and his dad would also discuss engineering and technology while they cut down trees and split logs. Dahlon says one of the most interesting topics was cheap ways to get an object to the moon. "We thought about floating a rocket on a balloon to save costs. We theorized that getting the balloon to upwards of 100,000 feet could save a pretty penny by avoiding a first stage of a rocket."

Up in the air

Dahlon's interest in balloons strengthened when he came to Purdue. He started looking into balloons as a resource for Cheap Access to Space (CATS) missions. Dahlon put a team together in the fall of 2013 to work on this project.

"We went from floating up a cooler with some off-the-shelf hardware to designing and building our own zero-pressure balloon and electronics, just like the ones that NASA uses to test some of their equipment," he says. "Our hard work paid off in the spring of 2014 when we won the first Global Space Balloon Challenge for best design, where we beat students from Ivy League schools and universities from around the world."

Medical solutions

Dahlon has been working at a high-tech 3-D printing startup in Indianapolis, where his team takes designs and prints them in different metals. "I hope to one day go beyond this work and find unique and interesting ways to apply additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, to the biomedical and aerospace industries," he says.

Dahlon has already designed a prototype thin-walled replacement jaw to aid patients with various medical diseases and a unique lattice structure to aid in weight reduction. He believes the technology he's been working on not only would change the way we create medical implants but also, in theory, could be applied to almost anything for weight reduction and optimization.

Fire and rockets

"It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Sets It on Fire, and Then It's Called Science." That's the title Dahlon says he would give to a book about his life so far because he and his friends tend to "experiment" with fire when doing some of their work.

When it comes to fun outside the classroom, Dahlon says he is not much different from any other Boilermaker. "I enjoy being around my friends and playing around, though our playing around usually involves making circuit boards, designing balloon missions or just launching some rockets."