Tech Student Claims Coveted Marshall Scholarship

Aerospace engineering student Jia Xu hasn't yet finished his degree, but that's not stopping him from helping the U.S. Navy design the next generation of warships. Georgia Tech's newest Marshall scholar spent the past summer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center helping the Navy use a technique developed at Georgia Tech in which architects simultaneously build hundreds of ships in a computer and test them under a myriad of conditions. Xu's work with the Navy, along with his research at Georgia Tech and the University of Maryland helped the 21-year-old senior become the third Georgia Tech student in four years to win the prestigious Marshall Scholarship.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the scholarship program. The British Government established the scholarship for American students in 1953 in appreciation for assistance received after World War II under the Marshall Plan. The scholarship encourages potential leaders to become ambassadors for the United States and establish personal ties between the two countries. The award covers tuition, books, travel and living expenses for two or three years. Prominent former Marshall scholars include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt; New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman; and the scientist/inventor Ray Dolby. Xu is one of 40 winners of this year's Marshall Scholarship. He was selected by the Marshall Committee Atlanta Region.

Xu will use his scholarship to pursue a master's in international relations at the London School of Economics and a master's in aerospace engineering at Imperial College. Afterwards, Xu said, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering followed by a career in the defense industry as both an engineer and an analyst.

"He has a great awareness of the world at large and is well placed to integrate his technical training with perspectives in international relations," said P.K. Yeung, associate professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech.

Xu's love of aerospace began shortly after he moved to the United States from Zhengzhoun, China with his family. He was only 11 years old when his dad took him to an air show at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. "Seeing those aircraft was amazing," he said. But rather than wanting to fly them, he said, he wanted to design them.

He is returning to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in West Bethesda, Maryland over the winter break, where he will continue his work designing and testing the new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).

"The old design methods are no longer working," said Xu. Designing hundreds of ships at once on the computer allows the Navy to test how ships perform with different weapons systems, hull types and engines, uncovering the best design for specific applications, he said.

Both the new ships and their design method represent a transformation in the Navy's combat and planning philosophy.

"The Navy is undergoing a dramatic shift in operations," said Xu. "They're focusing on shore fights, developing smaller, more agile ships that can fight in shallow waters."

The LCSs would run 50-60 knots and weigh about 3,000 tons. By comparison a typical destroyer weighs 9,000 tons, while an aircraft carrier displaces 80,000 tons. Both ships run closer to 30 knots.

The new ships would deploy in large groups in front of a group of more traditional ships. Able to run in shallow waters, the LCSs would be very fast and able to hit multiple targets at once. Launching unmanned submarines to clear mines and drone helicopters for surveillance, an LCS group would operate much like a swarm of insects.

"The idea behind these ships is that many smaller ships are harder to destroy than a few larger ships," said Xu.

Back at Tech, Xu has been engaged in more fundamental research on how air, fuel and temperature affect aeronautics systems. He has also spent time researching air-flow at the University of Maryland's wind tunnel.

Using his Marshall Scholarship to supplement his aerospace training with a degree in international relations will give him the perfect training for a career as a defense analyst, said Xu. "Because Britain is the bridge between the United States and Europe, if I want to understand the gap between American and European policy, the London School of Economics is a good place to be," he said.

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