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The Trinity Reporter Spring 2003

Nhon Trinh ’04
This engineering student has been taking things apart since he was a kid

by Christine Palm

photo: Nick Lacy   

When most kids zoom along on a bicycle, they simply think about holding on tight, or perhaps about the wind blowing through their hair. But when Nhon Trinh was a child, he thought about how the gears propelled his bicycle along and what physical properties allowed it to remain balanced during a banking turn. And while most kids with a camera might snap a picture or two of their friends, Trinh wondered how the zoom lens kept the image sharp and what the aperture was for. And cars? Forget looking cool or going fast. For Trinh, the fascination was about what propelled the vehicle through something called a “high friction ratio.” As a child growing up in Ho Chi Minh City, Trinh couldn’t resist taking things apart for the sheer joy of seeing whether he could put them back together again. And while his parents didn’t exactly support this fascination, they didn’t oppose it, either.

“As a child, I was always interested in knowing how things worked,” Trinh recalls. “I often opened up broken electronic devices at home to see what was inside, even though I had no clue what they were. Once, I was able to fix a telephone for my mom and I was so proud of that.”

Knowing “what’s inside” continues to compel Trinh, now a junior majoring in electrical engineering. “When I started to learn physics, the physical world appeared to be very logical to me, and I felt the need to explore that very certain order,” he says. “In high school, my two favorite subjects were physics and math. I was a founding member of the ‘Student Bees Club,’ which worked on various projects, such as making gliders and battery-driven vehicles. Nothing was complicated, but to me it was fun, learning how to use the tools and do ‘hands-on’ stuff. I soon knew that I wanted my future career to be something that would combine math and science in this way, and engineering was perfect.”

Before long, Trinh won a national prize in physics. An annual competition for 12th-grade students throughout the country, held by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training, it was designed to encourage students to study a chosen subject on an advanced level.

“The competition was very tough and intense,” Trinh remembers. “There was a lot of material to study. To qualify for the competition, students had to be picked by their school and be one of the top 10 in their city’s competition. Studying those materials really opened my mind about physics, and at some point I even thought I would be a physicist. It also paid off in college, because I didn’t have to take any physics classes at Trinity, having been prepared enough to pass the exams.”

After high school, Trinh searched for just the right college. He was offered a substantial scholarship to attend an engineering school in Japan, but chose to study in this country because “the United States is where all the best physics is being done,” and because Trinity offered both ideal academics and location.

“Trinity is a small school with a good reputation,” Trinh says. “It has engineering and is close to one of my relatives—an uncle in Wethersfield. Because the United States was new to me, I wanted to live close to someone I knew. But more importantly, the program here gives me solid training in my field. It won’t teach me everything, but it gives me the excitement to create and innovate. I really appreciate the labs being open 24 hours a day, the easy access to faculty members, the small classes, and the research opportunities.”


He was offered a substantial scholarship to attend an engineering school in Japan, but chose to study in this country because "the United States is where all the best physics is being done," and because Trinity offered both ideal academics and location.


Currently, Trinh is the chief engineer of a small, select group of engineering students who have been preparing to compete in two robotics contests, including Trinity’s own annual International Fire Fighting Home Robot Competition. The other is the ALVIN robot, which is designed to compete in the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC), which takes place in late May in Detroit, Michigan. In the Trinity event, a robotic device must navigate through a series of walls and corridors to find and put out a burning candle. Now in its 10th year, the contest attracts teams from as far away as China and Rumania. The IGVC event requires a robot to reach a variety of destinations on an outdoor obstacle course within a prescribed time limit.

Even though he is still a college student, Trinh’s resumé is already filled with milestones. With a GPA of 4.16, he has won a number of academic honors, including Dean’s Scholar, Faculty Scholar, the Chemical Rubber Company Award, first prize in the Phi Gamma Delta Prizes, Holland Scholar (highest GPA of the class), and was among the top six percent in the Putnam Math Exam in 2002. In addition, he worked on a Connecticut NASA student project grant, served as a research assistant in Trinity’s DSP Lab, and was a NASA Fellow in the Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium. As if this weren’t enough, Trinh has shared his expertise with young people by serving as a research fellow in Trinity’s Initiative in Engineering Recruitment and Retention (TIER2) during the summer of 2002, where he taught a group of high school students how to design and construct a robot using Lego pieces as part of Trinity’s fire-fighting robot contest.

Trinh knows he is fortunate to have discovered his calling at such an early age and to have been able to develop it during his time at Trinity. And yet, he is determined not to let his love of math and science make his life too insular. So in addition to his engineering courses, he has taken subjects such as writing, economics, Chinese language, architectural drawing, and political science.

When he is not planning his future in research and development or thinking about which graduate school to attend, Trinh “hang[s] out with friends, or I chat online with old friends from high school in Vietnam, or watch action movies.” Why action movies?

“They’re entertaining and relaxing,” Trinh says. “Plus, I like movies like the Jackie Chan or James Bond films because I enjoy seeing what people’s imaginations conceive, given the limitations of today’s world. Some things that are impossible today might be achieved in the future."


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