When I arrived at NASA Goddard earlier this summer, I was unsure what to expect – I anticipated that being a summer high school intern might mean entail the more mundane things in the lab or doing tasks that nobody else wanted to do. However, it did not turn out that way at all. I was given lots of opportunities to do really meaningful work and to learn a great deal, and I also had the chance to meet many leading scientists and engineers and hear from them about their careers and the exciting endeavors they are involved in.
This summer I worked in the Cryogenics and Fluids Branch, specifically on the cryogenic system of the Primordial Inflation Explorer (PIXIE), a mission in the concept phase, which will study the gravity waves and polarizations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The detectors and instrument on the spacecraft need to be very cold in order to function, nearly 100° mK and 3° K respectively, requiring an efficient, low cost, powerful cryogenic system. For those of you non-geeks out there… 3° K is -454° F – really, really COLD!
Using an extensive model on AutoCad and a program called Thermal Desktop, I was able to run thermal analyses and tests to see which parameters and characteristics of the spacecraft were optimal for the cryogenic system. However, I also had to take into account the proposed budget and the other vital systems of the spacecraft.
To learn the cryogenic cooling methods, I spent time in the cryo lab to assist in experiments involving the cooling methods. This way, I was able to do some hands-on work, and learn many amazing things in the process. It is not every day that you cool something down to as low as 30° mK!
Ben Coleman working in the Cryogenic Lab. Credit: Ben Coleman
My experiences being an analyst and performing tasks in the lab, as well as my interactions with exceptional scientists and engineers here at Goddard have inspired me to pursue more research in the future.
For example, I met and talked with people like Dr. Jim Garvin, Goddard’s Chief Scientist, and Dr. John Mather, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics. My interactions and discussions with them and others gave me insights regarding what I may wish to do at college. All the people I have encountered at Goddard, no matter how big the title or how many awards they have, are down to Earth, passionate about their work, and committed to helping the next generation of scientists learn, grow, and gain experience in the real world.
An internship at Goddard is not always about work all the time. Our group of high school interns socialized and went out for lunch many times, and we had a lot of fun together – and some funny moments – including when we were on the verge of being late for a meeting after lunch and had to stop the car and wait for the ‘Goddard Geese’ to cross the road as we arrived on center! It was also great to spend time chatting and joking with many of the scientists here, who are not always as serious as their jobs make them seem to be.
An internship at Goddard this summer was a very unique opportunity in which I learned, contributed, built a new network of friends and colleagues, and was inspired to think about doing some big things. I had such a good time here, and I am looking forward to coming back next summer!