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Alex Kossett

U senior Alex Kossett may one day combine robotics and medicine into new life-saving technologies.

Building blocks for a career

Scholarships--and Legos--help budding engineer explore his interest in robotics

By Trish Grafstrom

From M, winter 2008

U senior Alex Kossett remembers everything being strange and upsetting when his family moved from Vandais Heights, Minnesota, to the Netherlands when he was 6 years old. That is, until his parents gave him a giant set of Legos. Soon the budding engineer had forgotten his troubles, and unbeknownst to him, his love of robotics had been sparked. "I enjoyed building stuff, but more than that, I enjoyed the process of holding it in my hands and working on it," he says. Upon returning to Minnesota two years later, Kossett focused on school, along with playing video games and the bass guitar in a rock band in his free time. "I knew I loved science and math, but I also loved activities with my hands," says Kossett. "By my junior year in high school, it became clear that mechanical engineering was for me. The U offered me a great scholarship package and I was on my way in engineering, but I still was a little unclear about my future." At the U, Kossett signed up for a required mechanical engineering class that involved creating a moving robot. After designing and building a robot that could follow a maze path, he was hooked on robotics--and thirsty for more.

"Thanks to scholarships, I am able to focus on school and volunteer in a lab where I can pursue my interests," says Kossett, who receives the Bentson Family Scholarship, the Frank Louk Scholarship, and the prestigious national Mercury 7 Astronaut Scholarship. For almost two years, Kossett has worked in the Center for Distributed Robotics, where he discovered his future career path. At the moment he's toying with the idea of applying robotics to medical treatments and procedures with the goal of introducing new life-saving technologies. "I start a robotics project by making and refining a computer model of a design," he says. "But the real fun begins when I finally receive the parts I've ordered or have made myself--it's like I'm 6 again, diving into a huge Lego set. Only now, the results can make a difference in the world."