Christian Mejia said he hopes to continue to be involved in NASA's NYCRI project. Image Credit: Christian MejiaAccording to Sir Francis Bacon, knowledge is power. That idea was doubly true for Christian Mejia, a New York high school student, who had the opportunity to participate in NASA's New York City Research Initiative. Mejia witnessed the relationship between knowledge and power firsthand as he conducted research to learn about the efficiency of different materials in power-generating fuel cells. But the knowledge he gained also has power of another sort -- the power to open new doors for his future education and career.
In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?NASA's student opportunity projects are designed to increase the number of scholastically well-suited, highly qualified, diverse students earning degrees in engineering, mathematics, science or related fields. The projects support NASA's goal of strengthening the agency's and the nation's future workforce.
I participated in the NASA New York City Research Initiative -- NYCRI -- a program run by Frank Scalzo in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. During my sophomore year in high school, I wanted to do research. I found a professor, Steven Greenbaum, who agreed to let me work in his lab over the summer. He informed me of the NASA NYCRI, to which I applied and got the position as a NASA research apprentice.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.
The research I conducted at Hunter College had to do with the investigation of the dynamic properties of various polymer membranes and ionic liquids for applications in fuel cells and batteries. The properties we look into tell us about the conductivity of the materials, which is a very important factor in determining whether or not a material ought to be used.
This research is important because it deals with an alternate energy technology. We are in a country that heavily depends on a limited supply for energy, and, sooner or later, we are going to need different ways to power our houses and move our cars. Although we do not work with batteries and fuel cells themselves, by analyzing different materials, we help with the advancement and further development of a very promising alternate source of energy. (Results of research by Mejia and other NYCRI participants can be found on the project's Web site.)
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
What I enjoyed most about the research was that the experiments were real -- by that I mean that these weren't experiments pre-made to work. While working on a project, problems arise, and things don't always go as planned. This gave me a more realistic view of the way experimental research goes.
What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?
I am a Bronx High School of Science graduate, class of 2009. I will be attending the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter as a physics major, and I am considering majoring in mathematics as well. I intend to become an aeronautical engineer.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
I have had a natural interest in the sciences and mathematics for as long as I have been in school. I’ve always been curious of the underlying principles that make the things around us work. Upon taking a physics course my sophomore year, I knew that physics was the way I wanted to go. I also had a strong interest in mathematics, so I figured the best-fit career field for me would be something like engineering.
How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?
Not many students can boast a research background with NASA, and I am sure that will make me that much more of a desirable candidate when I apply for other research internships. Also, considering that I want to be an aeronautical engineer, I definitely see myself working for NASA in the future.
What are your future career plans?
I plan to be an aeronautical engineer. I am not sure exactly what I will be doing as an engineer. However, I do know that I want to go back into education, either as a high school teacher or college professor, at some point in my life. I plan to do this at the end of my career, near retirement.
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?
I would definitely recommend going for it. It is definitely not an experience to pass up. However, research isn't easy. Things don't always go the way you expect, and you have to be ready to solve problems as they come. I found the work fun and interesting, and I plan to continue being part of the NASA NYCRI for as long as I can. I have truly enjoyed the experience thus far and can't wait to continue.