Skip to main content

Engineering grad looks to the stars

ASU student Garrett Fleetwood invents rock-categorizing process that could someday be used in space exploration


Garrett Fleetwood
|
April 29, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

When the Apollo astronauts trained in Arizona, Ron Greeley, one of the founders of planetary geology and the father of Arizona State University’s space program, helped educate them about geology.

Early astronauts tended to be fighter jocks who weren’t terribly interested in rocks. Greeley succeeded in educating them to be more sophisticated than describing rocks as big or little, and how to differentiate between an interesting rock and a more prosaic sample.

Arizona State University student Garrett Fleetwood, about to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering from the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport & Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and another degree in economics, wrote an undergraduate thesis tackling that exact problem.

The Corvallis, Oregon, native invented a computerized process to identify rock samples and put them into categories. His approach can learn from human experts and extrapolate their decision processes to identify interesting rock samples.

The thesis — “A Concept for Using Superformula and Information Theory to Identify and Prioritize Interesting Objects in Autonomous Exploration” — may someday help create a geologic scanning instrument used in space exploration.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I’ve always known I was destined for engineering. I was the sci-fi nerd: "Let’s make this happen." ... The thing that really gets me is the idea of establishing a permanent base on the moon or Mars. That’s just something I’ve always wanted to see happen. I can help.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: One of the fun things you learn about engineering and the sciences in general is that the more you know, the less you know. You realize that really quickly.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It was the scholarship.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: College Avenue Commons. It’s a really nice building.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Grad school.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: There’s so much to choose from. And that’s really not a lot of money. It used to be. I’m going to go generic and say world hunger. You could probably make a dent with a distribution center or something.

More Science and technology

 

Three women and a man stand in front of a banner that reads Indo-Pacific Space and Earth Conference

ASU-based space workforce training program expands to Australia and New Zealand

The Milo Space Science Institute, led by Arizona State University, will offer its space workforce training program to university and vocational students in Australia and New Zealand starting in March…

A group of students and Michael Crow holding up the "forks up" symbol at AAAS.

ASU students compete at world’s largest general science conference

A group of 15 Arizona State University students traveled to Denver, Colorado, last week for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general…

Portrait of woman with long brown hair and blue jacket taken outside on ASU Tempe campus

'Leap into the unknown' brought newly named Regents Professor to ASU

The plane landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Meenakshi Wadhwa stepped into the terminal. She was 21 years old and a recent graduate of Punjab University in India where she had…