Three Johns Hopkins APL Staff Members Honored for STEM Excellence

Three staff members at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, received honors for excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as a part of the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) at the 2024 BEYA STEM Conference, held Feb. 15-17.

Career Achievement in Industry Award

George Coles, an engineer in APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department (REDD), received the Career Achievement in Industry Award, one of the highest awards offered at the conference.

Coles has been at APL for more than 20 years. His research focuses on microelectromechanical system (MEMS) fabrication, nanofabrication, microfabrication and medical device design and development. His work in medical device development includes a handheld device to treat cataracts, the Implantable Pressure-Actuated Drug-Delivery Systems and a pediatric ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt, which allows the drainage of excess cerebrospinal fluid in children with hydrocephalus.

Coles joined the Lab in 2003, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in physics from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He had designs on becoming a medical doctor, but his plan changed during his undergraduate program as his interests expanded into engineering.

“I exposed myself to a lot of different fields — environmental, biological, medical, materials,” Coles said. “Fundamentally, the science at the core of all of them overlaps and allows you to develop a mental model, a way of critical thinking that allows you to see other options. You don’t see the demarcations between fields or problems anymore. You start seeing how they’re bridged.”

A career of innovation also led to earning the APL Master Inventor designation in 2021, for having more than 10 patents based on APL intellectual property.

“George is a phenomenal engineer, innovator and technical contributor,” said Danielle Hilliard, who oversees the Concept Design and Realization Branch in REDD. “But above all, he is a kind, thoughtful and action-oriented leader. From a technical perspective, he is focused on delivering solutions to our sponsor missions, and as a supervisor, he is focused on the mission of caring for his staff.”

“All of this is possible because I have a good team of people to help me,” Coles added. “It couldn’t have happened without it being a collective effort. The success that I’m being noticed for, I still see it as something representative of how well we can work together.”

Modern-Day Technology Leader Award

Two APL staff members also received Modern-Day Technology Leader awards, which recognize outstanding performance in STEM.

Harold Lee is a materials scientist and engineer with more than six years of technical experience in areas such as organic and inorganic electronic materials and devices, additive manufacturing, and the novel synthesis, processing, fabrication and testing of ultra-high-temperature ceramics and composites for extreme thermal, radiation and chemical environments.

Now an analyst in APL’s National Security Analysis Department, his research has led to more than 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at scientific conferences, and his skills and knowledge have supported research and development efforts, the intelligence community and national security.

Previously, Lee served as a supply administration and operations clerk in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve while getting a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Old Dominion University, and later received his master’s degree in materials science from Norfolk State University. He also received a doctorate in materials science and engineering from Norfolk State University in 2018 and did his postdoctoral work at the National Science Foundation and Sandia National Laboratories.

Also recognized in this category was Alfred Mayalu, a computer and mechanical engineer in APL’s Asymmetric Operations Sector. An intern at APL in 2017 while completing his doctorate in computer engineering at Virginia Tech, Mayalu joined the Laboratory full-time in 2021.

He first worked on georegistration, which involves identifying the location of objects in an image or video. He quickly rose to lead an Independent Research and Development project for the Department of Defense, serve as the technical area lead for group research in artificial intelligence in constrained environments, and serve as a group intern coordinator with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition to his doctorate, Mayalu has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology.