Meet the DEVELOP interns!

The NASA Applied Sciences DEVELOP Program offers students the opportunity to intern under the guidance of NASA scientists to work on Earth science research projects that apply NASA Earth observations for societal benefit.


DEVELOP interns and science advisors at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

L to R: Harpreet Narang, David Spelman, Scott Cook, Paul Skym, Wanda Archy, Alyssa Mathews, Melissa Oguamanam, Fritz Policelli (science advisor), Luciano Rodriguez, John “EBo” David (science advisor)


Harpreet Narang

Hi, my name is Harpreet Narang and I was an intern this summer with the NASA DEVELOP National Program. This summer I worked with two other students as an alpha tester of a snowmelt model developed at Utah State University called the Utah Energy Balance (UEB) grid model. The UEB grid was developed to simulate snowmelt rates, which are responsible for erosion and flooding, based on an energy balance approach. We performed the task of gathering numerous input parameters along with processing and re-formatting them to comply with the model settings before initially testing the model. My experience at Goddard was one to remember as I got a first-hand look at how the science community is structured and how people interact with one another to complete scientific objectives. It really is a proud feeling to see your project come together and find meaningful results that can impact a community. I was also able to build many relationships in my time here, not only with my team but also with scientists as well. Working with NASA was truly a great experience, and I hope to get a chance to work under them again as a full-time employee.


David Spelman

I’m David and am a recent graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University in Environmental Engineering. I loved the opportunity to learn new things related to my field of study and work with the wonderful DEVELOP science advisors at Goddard. The atmosphere of the workplace was perhaps the best part: amazing opportunities to network and learn new things. I really hope that I get a chance to come back again!


Scott Cook

This summer has been a great learning experience for me. Last year I participated in NASA’s DEVELOP Program and I was fortunate enough to come back and continue working at Goddard. I would have to say that the best part of this internship is the people I am able to interact with. The DEVELOP Program has always assembled teams with great dynamic. We are not only colleagues, but friends. Our advisor, Frederick “Fritz” Policelli is phenomenal and more than willing to roll up his sleeves and work hard with us when there are problems. On a more technical note, having access to super computers, information, data, and 8,500 employees that share a similar passion for STEM has definitely added to this summer’s great experience.


Paul Skym

My name is Paul Skym. I am a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Government & Politics and a Bachelor of Science in Geographical Sciences with a specialization in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Computer Cartography. Currently, I serve as the Project Lead for the Upper Missouri River Disasters team for the NASA DEVELOP National Program here at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).


My project specifically aims to use remotely sensed data Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) in replacement of in situ ground gauge data as one of the main input parameters into a hydrological model that could forecast floods in near-real time. I must admit, I feel like I have re-learned how to learn. Although I had no aspirations for graduate school, working this internship at GSFC has made me reconsider. GSFC has taught me that no one ever stops learning.


Working at GSFC has been one of the most positive experiences in my life. The environment is one that everyone can take advantage of. At GSFC, I have had the pleasure of meeting the most interesting people ever, including GSFC Director Christopher J. Scolese, GSFC Deputy Director Arthur F. Obenschain (everybody calls him Rick), and Assistant Director for Operations, Earth Sciences Division Jack E. Richards, just to name a few. I love GSFC’s attitude towards finding success in life. Only at NASA is failure a legitimate option, in the short term. I had the pleasure of meeting former NASA employees at one of the monthly retirement meetings. Specifically, I remember Mr. Dick Clark telling me, “Don’t be afraid of failure, embrace it. That’s how you learn, that’s how you find success.” This specific conversation will resonate with me for the rest of my life and I have GSFC to thank for that. If you are even slightly considering the possibility of working for NASA, especially GSFC, I say just go for it, you will not regret it.


I would like to thank everyone at the National Program Office of the NASA DEVELOP National Program, my science advisors Dr. Dimitar Ouzounov and John David, my mentor Fritz Policelli, my Center Lead Melissa Oguamanam, and most importantly my team members David Spelman and Luciano Rodriguez for working hard with me this summer to make this a rewarding opportunity.


Wanda Archy

Working at NASA GSFC as a DEVELOP intern has been an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to work with DEVELOP national projects aimed at improving Earth science policy as an Earthzine liaison. Through the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Earthzine is an online magazine that publishes articles and news about the latest in Earth observations. I was able to attend conferences, conduct interviews, give presentations, network, and most importantly, get the overall NASA experience. Throughout the summer I wrote technical articles for the IEEE’s online publication covering a variety of topics: satellite systems, disaster management, new technologies, and climate change. DEVELOP also gave me the opportunity to apply for and receive the John Mather Nobel Scholar Award.


Alyssa Mathews

My name is Alyssa Mathews, and this summer I have been a DEVELOP intern at NASA GSFC.  I just graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and I’ll be attending Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall for a Master’s degree in Environmental Science.  This summer I was part of the Southwest Water Resources Team, studying snowmelt in the Upper Green River Basin in southwest Wyoming. My team has been using remotely sensed data to be used as inputs for the Utah Energy Balance Model, which forecasts snowmelt.  We are hoping that in the future, this model will be able to be globalized, and used in conjunction with flood prediction models.  This semester, we focused on gathering and processing the data so it could be in the right format for the model.  We used meteorological data and GIS data.  This was an interesting project because it used meteorology with computer science in order to work with a forecasting model directly, which is something I had never done before.  I worked with really great people, both in DEVELOP, and at Goddard.  Overall, this is definitely a summer to remember.


Luciano Rodriguez

My name is Luciano Rodriguez and I am from Chapman University in Orange, CA.  I am a second year graduate student studying Computational Science.  This is my first NASA internship and I hope there will be more.  This summer I have been working in the DEVELOP Program with Frederick Policelli, Dr. Dimitar Ouzounov, and John David modeling the CREST model for flood forecast in the upper Missouri River.  It has put many of my educational years in practical use to the community, which is one of my goals in life. The atmosphere with my colleagues and science advisors has allowed for great collaboration about our model and its future. DEVELOP has allowed me understand the research and presentational aspect of the current workforce.  They also gave me the opportunity to keep myself informed of the latest events happening in NASA as well as communicate with retired scientists at Goddard to discuss their contributions to the world and community.  Overall, it has been a great experience, and I look forward to future collaboration with my colleagues.  


Melissa Oguamanam

My name is Melissa Oguamanam and I am from Baltimore, MD. I recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Geographical Sciences from University of Maryland, College Park. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center through the DEVELOP Program. This amazing experience involved working with top NASA Earth Scientists, attending numerous space seminars, and meeting fellow interns who have the same passion for Earth science as I do. One of the benefits of the DEVELOP Program that I appreciate the most is being able to collaborate with NASA scientists to examine various environmental issues using geospatial technology that can have large impacts on improving communities.


For more information about DEVELOP, please check out the website here:

Meet Tabitha Russell!

Hello, my name is Tabitha Russell. I am a rising senior at Salisbury University; I am majoring in Information Systems and minoring in Finance. This summer I had the pleasure of interning with Code 155 under the Cost Accounting Section.  I must say that I have enjoyed working with the Cost Team. They have enlightened me with several ideas and information regarding accounting principles and internal controls for the agency.  Along with learning the standard operating procedures of a Cost Commercial Representative (CCR) Administrator, I did a research project on fees paid to NASA Contractors.

This research project was a tough subject, but interesting at the same time. I investigated how the financial policy is implemented across the center. Each CCR Administrator had different issues regarding contractor fees, such as billing issues, timing issues, or explaining the calculations. The biggest part of my project was my proposed recommendations for the issues that the CCR Administrators were having.  I proposed to update the regulations and the NASA Procedural Requirements so that Cost Vouchers and Fee Vouchers are combined on one invoice. NASA has to pay for every Invoice/Voucher that is processed, and if we update these items, we will potentially save NASA millions of dollars. 

Credit:  Tabitha Russell.  Tabitha presents her research at the Intern Poster Session.

As I went around the office introducing my research to my colleagues, some suggested that I submit my proposal to the Obama SAVE Award. President Obama believes the best ideas usually come from the front lines. That’s why in 2009 he launched the SAVE Award (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency), seeking ideas from federal employees to make government more effective and efficient, to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. I did enter the Obama SAVE Award a day before the deadline, but I did not get a chance to get agency votes. However, it was still a great experience.

I would like to thank my mentor Rodney Green and the Cost Team of Code 155 for a great summer! I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

Meet Noah Katz!

If I were to go back in time and have a conversation with myself in which I explained that I was working for NASA this summer, I wouldn’t believe me.


Over the past two months I’ve edited and re-imagined posters, brochures, fact sheets, and presentations; designed samples of contact cards; put together a storyboard for an informational video; and built the first draft of a screen-saver. These things seem natural to me now after a handful of weeks at work for NASA, but they were not always. Talking about what kind of data is being relayed between satellites and the International Space Station would have been beyond strange; but now that information sits jotted on a post-it note on my desk. 


Since I could first hold a pencil in my hand, I drew spaceships. Fleets of them numbering in the tens of thousands filled notebooks and scraps of paper whenever I had a spare moment. At NASA I now draw with design software instead of pencils, and the spacecraft depicted are real.  

Credit:  Noah Katz.  Noah stands under the Impact Dynamics Testing Gantry at the NASA Langley Research Center.


So where do I work? In long form, I would say I work at the Goddard Space Flight Center in the Exploration and Space Communications Projects Division. The projects that I have helped out on are related to Education and Public Outreach. Right now most of the work I’ve done focuses on the 11th Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) (launching December 2012) and a brand new Optical Communication payload (LCRD) to be hosted onboard a commercial satellite in the coming years.


In order for the education and public outreach aspects of the job to be successful, we need to create images and content across various media that are both scientifically accurate and visually appealing. To achieve this, the scientists and project managers who help create and manage the spacecraft are in constant contact. This means teamwork and collaboration are vital. During June and July, science educators from across the state of Pennsylvania came to Goddard to learn more about space. I was responsible for editing and adding material to a presentation that was delivered by engineers and team leaders from the division. At a crucial juncture of planning this presentation, we all sat down to discuss the accuracy of the graphics. The changes made here helped ensure that the information we provided to other educators was sound. 


Beyond this, I have the unique privilege of interacting with engineers and scientists across a range of disciplines both inside and outside of the office, including the hundreds of summer interns who share my passion for space. A particular technical highlight of my time at Goddard was the opportunity to view the massive clean rooms and testing facilities where satellites go to earn their stripes before leaving Earth. Being so close to these pinnacles of our civilization’s technological progress was, for a future-enthusiast like me, something of a surreal experience. 


Back home at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I study how advanced technology changes human consciousness and culture. I was able to see this firsthand at NASA. Going forward, my experiences here will carry weight in the real world and help inform the rest of my studies when I return to school. And when I eventually make my move into a full-time career, I will hold NASA proudly on my résumé and in my memory. 

Meet Ricardo Topham!

I’m a Spanish telecommunications engineer, but due to some unexpected turns, I am working with Earth Observation data. For my master’s degree, I wanted to study somewhere other than my home of the Canary Islands, Spain. The interesting option arose of studying the H.264/MPEG4 video compression in New Zealand. However, because of the economic crisis, my “kiwi” plan shattered into pieces and I had to find an alternative. The promised scholarship wasn’t there anymore and my expected stipend disappeared, so I needed to stay at home to complete my thesis. A new variety of choices opened up, and I picked Earth Observation at the International Space University.


The International Space University’s M.Sc includes a 12-week internship. I was familiar with NASA’s MODIS Earth Observation instrument, so when my academic advisor asked me about preferences for my internship, my choice was crystal clear – NASA Goddard, the world’s spearhead of Earth Observation. Eight months later, in mid-May, my adventure started.



Credit:  R. Topham


I work in building 33, in the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory (Code 618). I’m probably the only engineer in a corridor flooded with scientists, which sometimes makes me feel like the odd one out. At first, I felt completely out of my element when they spoke about trees, canopy closure, leave types, topography, and allometry. It didn’t matter though, because I was willing to learn!


The project proposed by my mentor, Ross F. Nelson, had the following description:


The intern would be responsible for using his programming and image processing skills to analyze simulated ICESat-2 LiDAR data in order to identify and delineate the ground, mid-forest-canopy, and top-of-forest canopy traces in the photon ranging data.


This was a completely new topic for me, but seemed quite interesting and challenging. That was all the information I had for choosing my project, which was more than enough for me. I had no doubts; I wanted to go to NASA Goddard.


A couple of months later, when I first met Ross, he presented me with an image like the one shown below:


Credit:  NASA


When an untrained person first sees that kind of image, it’s impossible for them to imagine what it might represent. In fact, the dark blue line is meant to show photon ground hits, while the fainter blue blurry dots on top of it are supposed to be trees. After some technical explanation, it starts to make sense.


Below is the same area imaged by an optical satellite.


Credit:  Google Maps


These two images seem not to any relation, but they are the same area viewed in completely different ways, LiDAR vs. optical.


Almost 12 weeks later and after several issues – data losses, a week without electricity (thanks Maryland derecho!), problems with the bike that I rode to NASA, and days with internet problems at home – I finally managed to come up with something like what’s shown in the image below.


Credit:  R. Topham / NASA


It obviously isn’t doing the job perfectly, but Ross told me a couple of times, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good”.


The experience at NASA has been awesome. Ross has been really supportive and motivating during the whole internship. I surely couldn’t have had a better mentor. Doug, another scientist in the same department who had a group of five interns, always kept me up-to-date about their visits and tours, even though I wasn’t officially part of their group. And Jackie and Jérémy were there whenever needed. It definitely has been a once in a lifetime experience! I’ll surely keep those friendships forever.


All in all, it’s been a pleasure to have the chance to work at NASA Goddard, and it’s something I’ll carry along with me throughout the rest of my life.

Meet Laura Dunlap!

Hi everybody! My name is Laura Dunlap, and I am a senior physics major at the University of Maryland, College Park. I began interning at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the summer of 2011. Since I go to school in the area, I was lucky enough to be able to continue my internship part time throughout the school year and full time again this summer.

Credit:  Laura Dunlap


I work in the Solar Physics Laboratory (Code 671) under the guidance of Adrian Daw and Douglas Rabin. We are working to develop a solar imaging system using a new technology called a photon sieve. A photon sieve is a type of diffractive optic that uses millions of tiny holes to focus light. I am involved in many aspects of the project including design, testing, and data analysis. I have learned so much about instrumentation and what it takes to build a project from start to finish. The best part of my job is when I get to go outside and actually use the system I helped build. Last summer, another intern and I were even able to take the very first pictures of the Sun with a photon sieve! These successful tests help promote the production and use of more photon sieve imaging systems. It is exciting to have such a major role in developing cutting-edge technology!


Credit:  Laura Dunlap.  The photon sieve imaging system piggybacked on a telescope during Solar observations.


There are so many great things about interning at Goddard, but one thing I really appreciate is the amount of responsibility I am given as just an undergraduate student. I was surprised the first time my mentor asked me to approve a list of parts to buy or decide what design to use. As an intern, I was not expecting to have so much influence over my project. This responsibility has helped me gain confidence in my work and take ownership of what I do. With this confidence and experience, I feel fully prepared to enter the workforce once I graduate.


The Goddard experience isn’t all about work, either. This internship has allowed me to meet great friends that I will have the rest of my life. It is awesome to have so many people with common interests in one place. I have enjoyed every minute of my experience and I have amazing memories that will last me a lifetime. I would encourage anyone and everyone who has the opportunity to intern at Goddard.

Meet Daniel Liss!

By Katrina Jackson, NASA GSFC

Daniel Liss has yet to start college, but already he’s getting some hands-on research experience at NASA.  This summer, Daniel is designing computer simulations of variability in the Crab Nebula with his mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Hays.  “For many years, scientists thought that [the Crab Nebula] was a constant source of gamma rays in the sky,” explains Daniel, “and over the past few years we’ve actually learned that it’s changing very rapidly.” Daniel attempts to model these changes in his simulations.

Credit:  NASA/Daniel Liss.  Daniel’s simulation shows selected sources in the gamma ray sky.  Circled are the Crab Nebula, IC 443, and Geminga.

This is not Daniel’s first Goddard internship.  After graduating from high school in February, Daniel worked with Dr. David Leisawitz in the Interferometry Laboratory.  Daniel learned about Dr. Leisawitz when he was doing research for a holography science project he presented at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2011.  (“Holography” is just what it sounds like – the study of holograms!)  After working with interferometers, Dr. Leisawitz recommended Daniel for his current internship position.

Credit:  I-SWEEEP.  Daniel presents research at an international science competition.

“My favorite part [about working at Goddard] is definitely that scientists here, if they’re working on a project, they think it’s the most pressing problem facing humanity,” says Daniel. “That type of passion is really contagious.”  Daniel enjoys talking with a variety of people at Goddard and learning about topics outside of his project.  “I came in to do these computer simulations, and yet I’m learning about the Dawn [mission to study asteroids], or about what they’re doing in the NICER X-ray laboratory.”  (NICER is the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, a proposed NASA mission.)  “You get a good idea of how NASA is such a huge organization with so many different projects and yet how everything comes together.”

What’s next for this bright, young student?  Daniel will attend Columbia University in the fall, where he plans to study computer science.  He’s been programming since the age of eight, and is excited to be able to study something he’s always done for fun.  Columbia is also a block away from the Goddard Institute in New York, so perhaps Daniel will continue his relationship with NASA.  We sure hope so, because students like Daniel will be instrumental to our future!

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!