Olivia Smarr's internship led to her having the opportunity to meet astronauts from the STS-119 space shuttle mission. Image Credit: Olivia SmarrAs a freshman in high school, Olivia Smarr developed an interest in space. By following that love, she had the opportunity to meet people who had been there. Smarr's interest in astronomy led her to an internship at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where she assisted with astrophysics research. Through her involvement with NASA, she also met the crew of the STS-119 space shuttle mission.
In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?
I recently completed my second internship in the High School Internship Program, or HIP, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. I knew I wanted to do an internship at NASA when I was a freshman in high school because I was developing an interest in astronomy. So I researched NASA's opportunities for high school students and decided to apply to HIP my sophomore year.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement, and why this topic is important.
During my first internship, I researched protostellar jets and disks in the star system PDS 144. Studying forming star systems such as PDS 144 helps us learn more about how stars form and evolve, which in turn helps us learn more about our own star, the sun. During my second internship I tested and modified a computer program that enables astrophysicists to view simulated images of what data from the upcoming Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) will look like. This will help my NASA mentor to know what targets will be best viewed with NuSTAR when it launches.
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
The most exciting part of my research has been obtaining my results. I take pride in knowing that something I have created, modified or worked on is helping astrophysicists and contributing to our knowledge of the universe.
What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?
I am currently a senior at Elizabeth Seton High School. I plan on attending college next fall to study physics, and then going on to graduate school to obtain a doctorate in astrophysics.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
I have been interested in astronomy since learning about it in my eighth-grade science class. I am fascinated by the vastness and complexity of the universe and enjoy learning about it.
What do you think will be the most important things you’ll take away from your involvement with NASA?
One of the benefits from my internship was that I was able to see the daily life of a NASA astrophysicist and the skills that are required for that job. Now I know what skills I need to learn and what classes I need to take in college to give me a head start on my future. Another thing I learned during my internship was that NASA does a lot, not only for science but also for the well-being of our nation. Working at NASA helped me realize NASA is very important and relevant in today's society.
How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?
I think my involvement with NASA will help my college application to stand out amongst others. I also think it has showed me that studying astronomy is something I would like to do professionally in the future.
What are your future career plans?
I would like to work for NASA in the future as an astrophysicist, while doing educational outreach in space science. I also would like to take on leadership roles within NASA and someday become NASA Administrator.
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?
I would encourage other students to be ambitious and try new things. Working for NASA opens doors and provides a variety of great opportunities. I would tell these students to take advantage of all NASA has to offer.