Meet Elizabeth Toller!

Hello! My name is Elizabeth Toller. I just finished my sophomore year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studying physics.

Working for NASA has been my dream since I was 14. Thanks to the many NASA educational programs, I have had multiple chances to experience working for NASA.  I spent a year as an intern on the Phoenix Mars Mission, and a summer at Dryden Flight Research Center working with unmanned aircraft. Both of these experiences helped me realize that NASA is a great place to be. This summer, I have been working at Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 665- also known as Astrophysics.

My project is a rather exciting one. I am using data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) to study extreme starburst galaxies, which are galaxies where large amounts of star formation are occurring. In many of these galaxies, the sum weight of the stars formed in a year is well over 50 times the mass of our sun. Take a second and think about that – a year really isn’t that long on astronomical timescales. These galaxies are creating stars extremely rapidly, at a rate that cannot be sustained for very long, because the galaxies will quickly run out of dust to put in the stars. The work I perform here at Goddard will help us understand extreme starburst galaxies better.

Credit:  Elizabeth Toller.  Elizabeth presents her work at the Intern Poster Session.

Working at Goddard has been an adventure. Almost every week I have attended a lecture or seminar on an interesting topic, such as X-ray astronomy or using satellites to analyze the health of plants. There have been multiple opportunities for free food, an essential in any college student’s diet. However, most of my time has been spent at my desk with my computer, analyzing data. There are days I want to smash my head against the keyboard because nothing is working. Then there are days when everything works, and the data becomes a beautiful, useful graph. The most exciting days are when I get an answer I don’t expect, because that means that I have something new to learn and improve on.  

If you have the opportunity to work with NASA, do it. In fact, if you have the opportunity to do anything related to STEM, you should. Check your local university. Most have programs for younger students to get involved in research, and community outreach events where everyone can come and learn about what is happening.  And go to this webpage: . No, really, do it. There is a huge list of things you can get involved with at NASA, no matter what age you are or where you are in your schooling.

The thing is, there is nothing quite like working at Goddard.

Meet Andrew Tsoi!

My name is Andrew Tsoi and I am from the University of Colorado at Boulder. At school, I am a senior studying aerospace engineering. During the summer, I am an intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. This is my fourth NASA internship at NASA and first being at Goddard. I spent my first three internships at NASA Langley Research Center, just three hours south of Goddard.

Goddard is very different from Langley. NASA Langley Research Center focuses primarily on aeronautics research. During my tour at LaRC, I studied wake turbulence modeling with Neil O’Connor, before working with the National Transonic Facility wind-tunnel during the summer with Rudy King.  Towards the middle of the summer, interns were given the opportunity to pose in front of a research aircraft wearing flight-suits, as seen below. LaRC was a very cool experience, but I wanted to get my feet wet in the space business, and Goddard has allowed me to do just that.

Credit:  NASA/LaRC

This summer, I have been working with Ben Emory studying the vibro-acoustics and structural dynamics of the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and Magnetospheric Multiscale missions. It is my first experience where I can see firsthand how my work is impacting the people around me. It is also the first time I’ve been able to apply the extremely technical concepts I’ve learned in class to my work. For the first time, I’ll no longer be able to complain, “I will never use this.”

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is a unique working environment. The center boasts over 10,000 engineers, researchers and scientists. In fact, it is the largest collection of engineers, researchers, and scientists in the world. My office currently sits in a hallway shared by the Electromechanical, Mechanical Systems Simulations & Analysis, and Optics branches. Interns will occasionally attend talks given by senior scientists and engineers, and learn about their work they’ve done here at Goddard. No two days are the same.

Although Goddard hosts keynote presentations almost daily, that doesn’t mean interns are excluded from sharing their work. In early July, students were invited to present their work with the entire center, at what was called the “Intern Open Mic”. I was selected to present my summer work in front of both interns and civil servants, as seen below. After presenting, I met another student named James Magargee who had just presented his work in carbon-nanotube testing, which I was familiar with because of an internship two years ago. We immediately picked up a conversation and began sharing our experiences.  


Credit:  NASA/GSFC

In addition to James, I have met a number of new friends both in and outside of work. Two I met on a center tour – Noah and Janet. As we embarked on a three-hour journey to see the Class-10,000 Clean Room and various other testing facilities at Goddard, we immediately knew we would become good friends. Our tourguide, DJ, was kind enough to snap a photo of us in front of the Thermal Vacuum Chamber.

Credit:  Andrew Tsoi / DJ Emmanuel

Outside of work, we spend most of our time with other interns, and that’s what I will remember most from this summer experience. We have gone to concerts, music festivals, downtown D.C., baseball games, epic get-togethers, movie premiers, and even to other states to visit old friends. Two weekends ago, a group of us drove down to the Dulles-Washington Airport to see the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. We all had to grab a picture. Ryan Hannahoe and I thought about sneaking past the rope to touch the Shuttle, but agreed it was best not to.  

Credit:  Andrew Tsoi / Volunteer Stranger

The experience I’ve gained at Goddard is life-changing. The remainder of this summer calls for poster presentations, finishing assignments, and writing our final research papers. My work is stressful, but I could not imagine myself being anywhere else. Goddard is truly a special place to be, and I look forward to the remaining time I have here this summer.

Meet Shawna Martinez!

Hi, my name is Shawna Martinez and I am the graduate STEM Engagement Intern for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In the photo below, you can see the GeoDome and the awesome Alejandro Colon (GeoDome Specialist), one of the most amazing educators, Tom Estill (Aerospace Education Specialist), and the very sweet and super smart STEM high school interns!


     Credit:  Becky Strauss.  Shawna, in the blue-green dress, stands with co-workers in front of the GeoDome.


The GeoDome presentation is amazing and it gives the visitors a chance to sit back, relax and look up at the beautiful images projected on the inside of the GeoDome. The technology of the GeoDome allows visitors to take a tour of the known universe, using software that is based on real data collected by NASA scientists.

This summer, I also presented the Infrared Camera presentation. My favorite line is, “Today you get to be NASA Scientists, NASA Technologists, NASA Engineers, and NASA Mathematicians!”  During the presentation, we use an infrared camera to help explain the difference between visible and invisible light. The infrared camera is a wonderful way to help the visitors learn about the type of technology that the James Webb Space Telescope will use. When the visitors get to see themselves in infrared, they are able to gain a better understanding of how the photos taken by the James Webb Space Telescope will capture temperature variances in our universe. While the Hubble Telescope is able to show us visible light, the James Webb Space Telescope will reveal the invisible!


I highly encourage anyone who has any interest in space and is in school to consider applying for a NASA internship. To be quite honest, I almost didn’t apply because I didn’t want to be away from home. I also didn’t think I would make it through the summer, because I was so homesick for my farm in Kentucky, but my mentors Carmel and Janie were so supportive. Then Bob showed me the plans for the Maryland Science, Exploration and Education Center (SEEC) at Goddard. When I saw the plans for the first time, it took me back to the many times my father would show us the building plans for the homes he helped build. That was the hook for me that made me want to be part of NASA beyond the initial internship. The SEEC is going to be absolutely amazing. The vision and hope of SEEC is what I want to be a part of.


As part of my STEM Engagement Internship, my mentor gave me the task of developing a rocket lesson for SEEC. Since then, I have been like a kid in a candy store meeting NASA scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians.  To help develop this lesson plan, where does Bob, the director of education, suggest I visit? A rocket launch!  In just a few days I will be heading to NASA Wallops Flight Facility to watch my very first launch. According to the Wallops web site, “The rocket will be carrying the inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment-3 (IRVE-3) for the NASA Langley Research Center“.


I seriously am in heaven here. Guess where I was today. No, I was not on the NASA base. I was with NASA physicists and other awesome educators learning about physics at Six Flags riding roller coasters! How can you beat that? I’m learning from the most amazing people and I can say without any doubt:  I will never forget the summer that I was the STEM Engagement Intern at NASA Goddard!


-Shawna Martinez/STEM Engagement Intern/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


Meet Merryl Azriel!

Astrochemistry. It’s just not one of those subjects you learn about in most schools. Plenty of chemistry, check on the astronomy, the physics, the astrophysics, even the astrobiology. But astrochemistry? Now there’s a NASA thing.

Buried in research in Goddard’s Building 34 are scientists and engineers of every field you ever heard of – and a few you haven’t. They can all be found roaming the halls and the universe here.

Working at NASA is rather like living inside a full-time geek fest. Snatches of conversation as you pass people in the halls may relate to the latest power outage or a favorite exoplanet – but more likely the latter. In a world that doesn’t care all that much about space most of the time, NASA is like a haven where we can all wallow in our spaciness. Because after all, space is cool – no apologies necessary. We can talk about exploring the universe as if it were an everyday thing, because it is.

I came to Goddard by a somewhat unusual route. After graduating with my BS in Chemical Engineering from Rutgers University in NJ, I worked in the consumer products industry with Johnson & Johnson. After 8 years (and an MS in ChemE picked up along the way) I decided it was time for a change, so I picked up and went off to Strasbourg France, home of the International Space University. After an intense year of everything about space you ever wanted (or didn’t want) to know, it was time for my ISU internship. One of my professors from ISU had completed a post-doc in Goddard’s Astrochemistry Lab and thought it would be a good fit. So after a flurry of emails, here I am.

Credit:  Merryl Azriel.  Merryl mans the goo-generating system. 

Coming into an astrochemistry lab from a cGMP environment (a must for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food, those ubiquitous FDA regulated products) was a bit of a shock. The lab whose motto is “we make dirt” is clearly not a cGMP type of place! But after a few days I got into the swing of things and have been thoroughly enjoying making some dirt of my own. I have acquired some of the tricks relating to maintaining a vacuum system that is continually stressed and learned some of the building phases as well. My supervisor has been incredibly supportive, encouraging me to develop and execute my own experimental plan as well as to take time to network and learn in the vast array of coffee talks and seminars available on a weekly basis.

Credit:  Merryl Azriel.  The block of ten reaction vessels ensures Merryl never runs out of runs!

What’s all this dirt about? The basic idea was developed a few decades back – that solar nebula dust can serve as a catalyst for the formation of amino acids, and maybe if you’re lucky, the origins of life. This catalytic reaction can be mimicked in the lab by putting solar nebula dust analogs in a reaction chamber with a representative gas cocktail. Add a little heat and a day or two later you’ve generated some nebulaesque goo on your dust. That goo (and yes that is the official technical term used in the lab) can contain all kinds of carbon and nitrogen compounds of interest.  I run such goo-generating experiments, looking at new dust analogs in an attempt to gain some insight into the reaction kinetics of the process.

Half way through a summer that has whizzed by like the proverbial freight train, I spend my days messing with dirt, grumbling at leaky vacuum chambers, making strange configurations of copper tubing, and generally having a blast. Here’s to Goddard!



Meet Ryan Hannahoe!

In 1997, Ryan Hannahoe met Public Affairs Officer Don Savage at NASA Headquarters.  Savage gave him a book about the Next Generation Space Telescope.  Little did Ryan know that he would be working on the education and public outreach for that telescope almost a decade and a half later.

Photo credit:  NASA/Chris Gunn.  NASA intern Ryan Hannahoe, left, and Radford Perry, contamination control engineer at NASA, examine a primary mirror segment for the James Webb Space Telescopoe at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

This is Ryan’s second summer interning with the education, public outreach and public affairs team for the James Webb Space Telescope.  Having had a successful first summer where he was awarded a John Mather Nobel Scholarship, Ryan was invited back to continue educating teachers and the public about the enormous space telescope and the science it will do. 

Photo credit:  Montana State University/Kelly Gorham.  Ryan Hannahoe helps a student at the James Webb Space Telescope booth during Astronomy Day at the Museum of the Rockies.

Ryan says it is great to come back to Goddard for a second summer, because he is able to jump right into his work since the first week.  He has been sharing hands-on JWST activities with visitors at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, developing JWST-related education and outreach content, helping to train teachers, and working with several public outreach events.  He also has had the exciting opportunity to talk with prominent space science figures about JWST.

Ryan thinks that all interested should apply for NASA internships.  He encourages potential interns to talk with the people working on the missions that they find exciting.  Ryan also suggests forming a relationship with your state’s Space Grant, because they can be a great source of opportunities and funding for students.