José Luiz Vargas de Mendonça Receives Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties class of 2024 Recognition

Soon-to-be-Aerospace and Computer Engineering graduate acknowledged for academic performance and research

It has been a successful start to the 2024 year for Aerospace and Computer Engineering student, José Luiz Vargas de Mendonça. Not only is he gearing up to graduate this spring, but he is also one of four University of Michigan students to have been recognized as Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties class of 2024 recipients. And if that’s not enough, he has also recently been honored with the College of Engineering Distinguished Academic Achievement for Undergraduate Students Award.

Vargas de Mendonça is one of 20 students from around the world who were selected for the 20 Twenties honor. This award recognizes individuals who are on track to be leaders of the aerospace, aviation and defense industries. Nominees are evaluated on their academic performance, civic contributions, personal challenges and the value of their research.

This year, each winner was invited to a luncheon in their honor on March 14, 2024 at The National Press Club in Washington, DC, as well as invited to attend Aviation Week Network’s 66th Annual Laureate Awards gala at the National Building Museum. Each student had the opportunity to network with other winners from around the world, all pursuing STEM degrees at the university level.

“For this award [Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties class of 2024], I feel that the research I have been doing in the Aerospace Department was recognized internationally. As a double major in Aerospace and Computer Engineering, my research usually involves the intersection of both disciplines. With Professor Jean-Baptiste Jeannin, I have been exploring the theory of programming languages applied to robotics, while with Professor Krzysztof Fidkowski and Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Professor Gokul Ravi I have been exploring the applications of quantum computers to scientific computing,” commented Vargas De Mendonça upon being announced as one of the recipients.

José Luiz Vargas de Mendonça grew up in Manaus, Brazil — a big city surrounded by the Amazon Rainforest — before moving to the United States in 2019 when he joined the University of Michigan Aerospace Engineering Department. Throughout his academic journey, his research interests have included computational fluid dynamics, formal verification and quantum computing.

During his time at U-M, Vargas De Mendonça spent three years involved in formal verification research in the Michigan Aerospace and Robotics Verification Lab (MARVL), led by Professor Jeannin. “In MARVL, my work centered around implementing a programming language to check the safety properties of software systems interacting with the environment. Instead of relying on unit tests, which might not cover all possible scenarios, the programming language relies on rigorous mathematical proofs of whether a safety property is satisfied or not. This contributes towards more secure flight systems,” he explained. 

During the Winter of 2022, he served as the Academic Chair for the Sigma Gamma Tau (SGT) Honors Society. As part of SGT, he was able to meet other students, while also getting to know many of the faculty members within the Aerospace Department. This occurred thanks to the SGT Professor Seminars, where professors present their research and how it directly connects to courses, or through the Student-Professor Dinner where students are able to talk to professors outside the academic environment, he was given a variety of opportunities to expand his knowledge and professional network. 

“I feel that the Aero community is welcoming, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet students and faculty, which contributes to creating this great learning environment.”

Additionally, he has been an active member in the Michigan Aeronautical Science Association (MASA) student organization for almost four years. Within the MASA team, he worked on the rocket fin design for the Tangerine Space Machine and served as the Avionics Lead during the summer and fall of 2022 for the team’s rocket, Clementine, where he was able to start the software subteam.

“As part of MASA, I met incredible people who helped me learn about the different areas required to build a rocket. Specifically, within the aerodynamics team, I made friends who would later collaborate on group projects in the computational fluid dynamics classes,” he explained in detail. “Within the avionics team, I made friends and we worked together on many of the group-based classes in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department.” Vargas De Mendonça further expands on his involvement in MASA, explaining how the impact of being part of a project team, and the networking opportunities within it, allowed him to make connections in Aerospace Engineering, EECS and Mechanical Engineering.

During the summer of 2023, he started delving deeper into the application of quantum computing for computational fluid dynamics. With the help of Professor Fidkowski from the Michigan Aerospace Department and Assistant Professor Gokul Ravi from EECS, Vargas De Mendonça has been focusing on quantum algorithms to solve the Poisson Equation, which can be used to model pressure fields in fluid dynamics.

“I would like to thank the help from everyone on this journey. God for the gift of life, my family providing immense support, Dr. John Callewaert for the guidance over my undergraduate time, friends that I faced challenges with, professors in the Aerospace and EECS Departments whose classes were essential to developing my technical skills, and the University of Michigan for the vast hands-on opportunities on research and project teams,” Vargas De Mendonça added. “As I graduate this semester, I am still deciding what my next endeavors will be. Either working in industry or pursuing a PhD in Quantum Computing. My long-term goal is to start a business focusing on the use of Quantum Computing for scientific computing applications.”

Since its inception in 2013, the 20 Twenties Program has received a total of  635 student nominations from universities worldwide, 180 have been recognized as 20 Twenties winners, and notably, previously seven of those winners have hailed from the University of Michigan. This year, three Michigan Aerospace students, José Luiz Vargas de Mendonça, Sophia Papp and Maria Reitz, along with Nick Tran from the U-M Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE), joined that esteemed list of U-M winners.

Photo Credit: Chris Zimmer Photography