It Really Is Just Rocket Science: Undergraduate Profile: Devin Cody (SM ‘17)

Photograph by George Iskander

Ten. Ten Yalies begin the countdown, holding their breaths, praying. Nine. A lone rocket sits in an endless expanse of canyon-filled wilderness. Eight. They smile, their eyes never straying from Chronos, awaiting the culmination of their year of work. Seven. Six. The numbers fly, tumbling out of their mouths. Five. Four. Three. The exhilaration builds. Two. All they can do now is watch. One.

Devin Cody, now a senior double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics, remembers that day in June of 2014 clearly. The competition rocket team, a subset of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA), launched Chronos, a rocket which they had been developing for months, seven thousand feet into the air and with the launch, earned second place at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition. The objective of their launch was to test general relativity using two atomic clocks. They hoped that the clock in the rocket would tick slower (on the scale of ten trillionths of a second) relative to the clock on the ground due to time dilatation, a physics framework that dictates how time passes differently in different reference frames. Although the data from the clocks was ultimately inconclusive, the launch itself was successful.

For Cody, launching Chronos was a thrilling experience. “It was exhilarating to see our rocket fly into the air at close to the speed of sound, just praying that the parachutes would deploy,” said Cody. Since the launch, he has become an active member of the YUAA. He served as the one of the group’s co-presidents during his junior year, and he continues to serve as a senior advisor on their executive board this year.

During his sophomore year, Cody was selected to lead a YUAA project to build a radio telescope. He drew on his experiences from the previous summer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, where he helped improved the accuracy of telescopes by developing code to both detect and correct errors and malfunctions. At Yale, Cody’s 16 person team designed and built an 8 foot telescope, complete with a mount, receiver, and control code. “That was a really cool project for me because I got to work with some incredible engineers at Yale and with people who became some of my closest friends,” said Cody. The telescope currently sits on the roof of the Yale Leitner Observatory and Planetarium.

Cody’s favorite research, however, was the work he did this summer with the Avionics and Hardware Engineering group of SpaceX, a private company currently pushing the boundaries of aerospace technology. SpaceX aims to bring down the cost of access to space by developing technology that will enable rocket reusability. At SpaceX, Cody developed an Electromagnetic Compatability (EMC) testing apparatus to test whether a coaxial cable provided adequate shielding. While he was there, Cody tested which shielding mechanisms was the most effective, research that was in great demand by members in other groups within SpaceX. “It was incredible seeing the impact that my work had almost immediately,” said Cody. “I think you realize your work matters when you have people from the other side of the company pushing you to get your work done fast because they need your results to make informed decisions about their work.”

Well into his senior year at Yale, Cody is now exploring another passion, quantum computing. Together with Professor Michel Devoret, he is studying quantum bits (qubits) in order to determine their properties. Qubits are similar to regular computer bits— both are small units of data used to store information and execute instructions. However, qubits are used in quantum computers and are potentially capable of more efficient calculations. To investigate, Cody and a graduate student from Devoret’s lab are designing a computationally efficient method of optimizing qubit design.

Devin Cody will graduate from Yale this spring with a double major in Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering, and copious work experience at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, SpaceX, NASA, and the Yale Quantum Institute. When asked about his plans for after Yale, Cody laughed. “It’s a valid question, I don’t have many answers just yet. I’m not entirely sure what I want to do… definitely electrical engineering.” But even within electrical engineering, Cody is certainly not tied to any one area and it will be fascinating to see in which direction he chooses to launch.