Michael Douglas Sherburne has been named the College of Engineering's 2018 Outstanding Senior. Throughout his time at Virginia Tech, he has made it his mission to understand both the engineering he studies and the complex social issues that surround it.
As a researcher and a leader, Sherburne has explored interests from space science to public policy.
Sherburne is currently active in several research and design projects at Virginia Tech.
For his senior capstone project, Sherburne is the lead electrical engineering student for a team working on a dense plasma focus device for the nuclear engineering program based in mechanical engineering. We are developing a new nuclear fusion tool to generate neutron radiation for experiments, explains Sherburne.
He is also working with Space@VT for an honors thesis project sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is designing a 30 kV, 500 A Linear Transformer Driver (LTD) that will power the next-generation Magnetized Shock Experiment at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Finally, Sherburne is the lead electrical engineering undergraduate researcher for Space@VTs Plasma Diagnostic Laboratory, where he plays a key role in the creation of a fiber optic network. Colin Adams, an assistant professor in aerospace and ocean engineering, praises Sherburne's control systems work in the plasma accelerator experiment: "Michael has made critical contributions... while training undergraduate students and working with graduate students."
Sherburne is interested in more than just the engineering aspects of scientific advancement. He received a 21st Century Studies Fellowship and led an investigation into water quality issues within Sri Lanka. He analyzed how cultural barriers can stymie local science efforts, and his results were published and presented at the 8th International Perspective on Water Resources and the Environment conference, an organization under the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Tying together his interests in politics and science, Sherburne co-founded Students on Capitol Hill in 2014 to influence legislative bills affecting the space industry.
As a result of these lobbying efforts, Sherburne obtained an internship in Congressman Robert Hurt's (VA-05) Washington, D.C. office.
"The experience gave me some insight into how scientists and engineers can most effectively lobby their interests in a complex political environment," says Sherburne.
Closer to home, Sherburne serves as president of Omicron Delta Kappa—the National Leadership Honor Society for college students—and has been arranging meetings with other student leaders and administrative officials to amplify a wide and diverse range of voices.
Sherburne has also taken on leadership roles throughout his years in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (VTCC). As a squadron commander in Air Force ROTC, he is responsible for the training of about 30 cadets. As a platoon leader, Sherburne was responsible for the training and well-being of almost 40 cadets during his last semester in the VTCC.
After graduating, Sherburne will serve as a developmental engineering officer in the Air Force Institute of Technology, where he will begin his graduate studies.
"I am excited about finding new ways to improve our scientific endeavors and to inspire others to push beyond boundaries," says Sherburne.
Sherburne is graduating with honors this May, with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and minors in 21st century studies and leadership studies.
Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the senior class, the Outstanding Senior Award recognizes exceptional academic achievement and leadership by a graduating senior from each of the university's eight colleges. Recipients have a minimum grade-point average of 3.75 on a 4.0 scale and are selected by faculty and students within their respective colleges.