Aaron Kuan, Ph.D., Engineering Student Curiosity

by Bethany Wagner ’14

Since August 6, 2012, the Curiosity rover has explored the vast Gale Crater on the rocky surface of Mars, investigating the planet’s climate and geology as well as its potential to support life.

Before Curiosity could carry out more than two years of groundbreaking scientific discoveries, the rover completed a challenging landing onto the rugged red terrain. A leading engineer behind the successful descent, Aaron Kuan, Ph.D., a new professor in APU’s pre-engineering program, worked on the terminal descend radar system that controlled the rover’s final 30 seconds of touchdown. “If the rover traveled too fast, it would crash,” said Kuan. “Any miscalculation errors or hardware failure would jeopardize the multi-billion dollar project.”

As director of engineering at Teledyne Microelectronic Technologies, a leading designer and manufacturer of microelectronic devices, Kuan once directed more than 100 engineering personnel from all engineering disciplines in designing sub-systems for aerospace companies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as well as clients in biomedical and national defense arenas. An electrical engineer by training, Kuan guides each project at the system engineering level, from conception to flight hardware production and qualification testing, while managing schedule and cost requirements, and delegating tasks to electrical, mechanical, chemical, and software engineering groups.

In addition to Curiosity, Kuan’s impressive resume includes work with the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope teams of Teledyne Imaging Sensors, heading groups that design and build everything from pacemakers and artificial pancreases to components of weapon systems and aircraft instruments.

Whether directing teams on a new satellite or radar for a military jet, Kuan ensures that his engineers come together in crafting a smooth system. Any technological product—from space rovers to cell phones—requires this holistic approach. “For example, a laptop involves both electrical and mechanical engineering,” said Kuan. “We need specialists in each discipline, and the systems engineering design approach ensures all individual components work together seamlessly during system integration.”

Kuan now employs a wealth of career experience to educate the next generation of engineers at APU. “I’m a self-professed geek fascinated by nature, science, and mathematics,” he said. “I look forward to sharing this love with students and helping them find their place in the exciting world of engineering.”

“Scientists like Kuan bring valuable real-world experience to the classroom,” said Leslie Wickman, Ph.D., chair of the new Department of Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Center for Research and Science. “His state-of-the-art knowledge and industry connections will support research projects and open career doors for students.”

Kuan joins APU as the Engineering and Computer Science department launches the Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering program. Studying all facets of engineering and participating in hands-on industry and government projects, students will graduate ready for careers in a wide range of fields. “Even if students choose a more specialized career later, an interdisciplinary foundation serves them well,” said Wickman.

As the only school in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offering a systems engineering degree, APU stands uniquely equipped to educate students in this field with a Christ-centered focus. As part of their coursework, students will study systems to improve water sanitation, food, energy resources, and living conditions in impoverished areas.

With the demand for engineering expanding rapidly on a global scale, Kuan sees great opportunities for Christian scientists. “The future of humankind heavily depends on technology,” he said. “Engineers can use their skills to influence the world for Christ.”