Major: Integrated Engineering Technology
Christopher Barth is helping with future space exploration as an Aerospace Technologist at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
“There aren’t many places to work that are more recognizable,” he said. “I prefer to drive in the front gate just so I can pass the entrance sign and drive past the wind tunnels where work is underway on projects ranging from aircraft icing to a new generation of supersonic aircraft. Knowing the great things that have been accomplished at NASA makes me want to do everything I can to make our current missions a success.”
In his role, Barth works in the dynamic thermal energy conversion branch, conducting research on Stirling and Brayton engines, which NASA will use to turn heat energy into electrical energy for use by space probes and future space missions such as to the moon and Mars.
“One of the exciting elements about working at Glenn is the opportunity to be involved in many different areas of research,” he said. “I am primarily working on the Kilopower Project, which is a power system for extended missions to the moon and Mars. It is tentatively scheduled to be tested on the moon in the 2027-2028 timeframe. In addition to Kilopower, I am starting to work on a project with the materials research branch on magnetically soft metals for use in inductors for power converters.”
Barth completed the first two years of engineering coursework at College of DuPage and graduated summa cum laude with an Associate in Applied Science degree in Integrated Engineering Technology. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and he just finished his Ph.D.
His interest in mechanical devices and electronics started at a young age.
“I was the type of kid who grew up taking things apart,” he said. “When I was 9, I repaired the family washing machine. The wigwag had broken – for those who are familiar with old-style washing machine gear cases. Even now, I enjoy automotive work and repairing home appliances as much as advanced engineering. Had things worked out differently, I may have become an electrician or gone into automotive technology. I know I would have enjoyed it, but God opened different doors.”
Outside his academic endeavors, Barth gained a wealth of experience through internships, service and research opportunities. He spent three years, first as an intern and then as a contract employee, at Packer Engineering in Naperville, where he led research projects during three of Packer’s eight-week “Students in Engineering and Technology at Packer” programs and contributed to Packer's research and development projects covering both renewable and defense applications. He also interned summers at Caterpillar's Electromotive Diesel division in LaGrange and Delphi Technologies in Kokomo, Ind.
During his time as a graduate student, he served on the board of the UIUC Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power and Energy Society, Student Chapter as both vice president and president. He also played key roles in the chapter’s annual “Power and Energy Conference at Illinois,” including publications director, conference co-chair and conference advisor. In addition, he has worked as a teaching assistant and research mentor for senior-level power electronics and electric machines lab classes.
As a graduate student at UIUC, Barth focused his research on the development of power electronics circuits and light-weight, high-efficiency power converters for photovoltaic (PV) systems and future electric aircraft.
"Power electronics is the study of circuits that transfer or convert energy," he said. "A laptop charger is a simple example, but power electronics are facilitating many changes in technology. The drivetrain of electric vehicles consists of electric motors and power electronics, and virtually all renewable energy sources, with the exception of hydro, depend heavily on power electronics."
Barth is fascinated with the conversion between electrical and mechanical power, an interest that was clarified while he was a student at COD.
“The exchange between alternating electric current and rotating magnetic fields is simply beautiful,” he said. “The first time I read about the operation of an alternating current induction machine, I was sitting at the west end of the library at COD studying for ELMEC 1110. Honestly, I started shaking with excitement.”
Barth credits COD with starting him on his path and said he may not be where he is today if not for his experiences as a student at the College.
“COD provided the academic starting point for everything I am now doing,” he said. “If it had not been for the opportunities I had to explore my interest in a cost-effective, accessible environment, I might not have ever started in engineering. Even after graduating from a top-ranked school like UIUC, I can attest that the quality of the teaching I received at COD was outstanding. I will always be grateful to the professors who invested in me during my time there.”
Barth added that COD provides students a great opportunity to test the waters, explore options and discover their passion.
“In engineering and technology, COD exposes students to both applied technology and more theoretical engineering before they make a decision on the focus of their careers. I would encourage everyone to take the time and get to know the entire campus and to browse the course catalog. It may take a few extra classes to discover your passion, but there is no better place to explore.
“Regardless of your field, I would highly recommend College of DuPage as a place to start your education.”