KU Aerospace Engineering Alum Returns to CReSIS


By Vicky Diaz-Camacho & Rachel McCarthy James
Spring 2015

At five years old, Emily Arnold gutted the wires from her dad’s radio to create her first plane: a piece of plywood hammered together with bunches of radio wires. She slid it down the hill by the train tracks, hoping for the plane to take flight. It flew for a good second, she said. “‘I’ve always had an interest [in aerospace engineering], as a kid tinkering around,” she said.

Arnold was raised in Hillsborough, Kansas, a small town with a population of less than 3,000 people. She was fascinated with planes at a young age and maintained those interests by attending a space camp and taking math courses in school. As a sixth grader in 1998, she saw John Glenn launch to space on TV, a defining moment in her life, she said. Watching him piqued her interest in aircraft and space. “In high school, I also learned I really liked math,” Dr. Arnold commented.

Fast-forward to today. Dr. Arnold’s accomplishments in aerospace engineering have stacked high already and she’s early in her career. While she was still a graduate student in aerospace engineering, Arnold was granted a competitive NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. Dr. Rick Hale, associate director of CReSIS, advised Arnold during her time as a student at CReSIS and, as a part of her fellowship, helped her design custom antenna fairings on the DC-8 and the NASA P-3 aircraft.

(ABOVE) Dr. Arnold placing the antennas for the P-3. Photos Courtesy of Dr. Emily Arnold

In addition to the NASA grant, Dr. Arnold was named an Amelia Earhart fellow in 2011, and in 2012, she was awarded the Antarctic Service Medal. “Dr. Arnold is a skilled researcher who is uniquely cross-trained in Aerospace Engineering design as well as radar fundamentals,” Hale said. “Her dissertation remains one of the most highly downloaded technical documents at the University of Kansas.”

Dr. Arnold earned her Ph.D. in 2013 and worked as a mechanical engineer for the Mitre Corporation for a year and a half. At Mitre, she worked on the airworthiness of the Battlefied Airborne Communication Node (BACN), helping to connect communications between aircraft in remote areas. In January 2015, she began her new position as an assistant professor in KU’s Aerospace Engineering department, spending much of her time with CReSIS.

Though she left industry for academia, Dr. Arnold is still engaged in the larger scientific community. At the end of April 2015, Arnold was invited to South Africa to do a small presentation on with the National Science Foundation’s Office of Integrated Activities for a panel on gender and technology. “It was a lot of fun, connecting with women in tech fields from across the country and meeting people from the NSF,” she said.

This fall, Dr. Arnold will teach a graduate course on numerical optimization and structural analysis. She is also engaged in developing multifunctional state-of-the-art technology with CReSIS, integrating antenna sensor systems cross trained in magnetic performance into aircraft wings. From planes made of plywood to aircraft flying in Antarctica, Emily Arnold has never stopped tinkering.

Dr. Emily Arnold on top of Castle Rock in Antarctica. Photos Courtesy of Dr. Emily Arnold