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Oct 21
Student Spotlight: Tom Krajnak

Though senior Eminence Fellow Tom Krajnak spent hours in the Shoe cheering on the Buckeyes as a kid, he did not expect to someday be standing there as an Ohio State student. He initially applied to colleges further from his hometown of Bexley, but then had the realization that so many of the opportunities he was searching for were a ten minute drive away. Krajnak's acceptance into the Eminence Fellows program reinforced this decision, and for a good reason. Over the past four years, he has watched his classmates from the Eminence Class of 2017 use their passions to make an impact outside of the school, always seeking to get more out of OSU than what is required for a degree. "From the very beginning of my freshman year, I was surrounded by the brightest, most passionate people I had ever met," he recalls. "I was constantly inspired by everyone's achievements and desire to do more than just go through the motions of college." He notes that now, beginning their fourth year at OSU, many of them have been achieving the goals they talked about from the beginning of first year.

It is more than likely that this admiration is reciprocal. Krajnak is majoring in Aerospace Engineering, but he defies the stereotype of engineers having time for nothing but studying and homework. In addition to his courses, he conducts research on fluidic oscillators at the OSU Aerospace Research Center under Dr. James Gregory. He is also the current President of OSU Running Club, which has grown to over 150 members, many of whom sign up as competitive members and participate in cross-country and track meets across the nation. He is also the Vice President of Information Technology for ENCompass Columbus, a student organization that connects impoverished people in central Columbus with resources for affordable food and medical care. His job is to maintain the database software used to store client information and schedule volunteers. In addition to all these responsibilities, he tries to find time for hobbies like running, relaxing in a hammock, photography, reading, and listening to alternative rock and rap (musicians such as Alt-J, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Childish Gambino). His current favorite book is The Martian by Andy Weir, partly because of the striking technical detail that is sometimes hard to come by in works of fiction.

Krajnak is also part of the Integrated Business and Engineering program (IBE), a rigorous honors option that requires the completion of an engineering major, business minor classes, and IBE cohort classes. "I realized that the relationship between business and engineering was an extremely important piece of the puzzle," he says. "It just made sense to study what many consider to be opposing parts of a business to better understand how to fit them together." This summer, the IBE program organized a trip to Geneva, Switzerland to work in the IdeaSquare innovation lab at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). There, Krajnak and his classmates worked on developing solutions to real-world problems such as access to clean water, electrification of rural health clinics, food safety, and recycling. They were the first undergraduate students to ever work in the lab.

This undertaking originated in IBE's Grand Challenge Based Innovation course, which presented the problem of providing electricity throughout the world, a topic the students would eventually figure out how to narrow down to something more manageable. Krajnak's group focused specifically on the electrification of healthcare clinics in rural Ethiopia. The most challenging part of this process was arriving at CERN and adapting to a new style of thinking, one that often is not taught in undergraduate classes. Krajnak explains, "While many business people tend to focus on converging to one solution fairly quickly, the theoretical physicists there taught us to be divergent thinkers. That means to blow out all of the walls and assumptions on your solution, and to really analyze the solution with an open mind." Ultimately, the group was able to develop a prototype for their solution for health clinic electrification: using solar collectors to store solar energy in a water battery. They presented a business plan to their professors and the scientists at CERN.

The typical workday at CERN consisted of a few meetings, group work sessions lasting several hours, occasional tours of CERN (including the location where the very first anti-hydrogen particle was held for ten minutes back in the 1980's), and "a mad rush for the free coffee/ espresso/cappuccino machine," but that didn't stop Krajnak and his classmates from experiencing the beauty of Switzerland. They went on two boating excursions in Lake Geneva, getting to pilot their own boat for one of them. They had a view of the Alps nearly everywhere they went. They ascended Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain, and although it was too cloudy to get an ideal view from the top, Krajnak recalls, "The swinging cable car and temperature drop of about 50 degrees assured us we were indeed on top of a mountain."

Krajnak is grateful for the opportunity to experience a beautiful country as well as the opportunity to learn how to approach problems from some of the world's most brilliant scientists. The experience served as preparation for his future as an innovator of the aerospace industry.  "As we come to the end of the fossil fuel era and the extent of conventional propulsion technology, something different will be required to move humanity across the planet," he explains. Much like providing electricity to rural Ethiopia's health clinics, finding a new method of transporting people will require a creative solution, one that may not be immediately intuitive, but Krajnak is up to the challenge. "I plan to chase the next big thing in aerospace propulsion."​