MUST Scholar Jorge Jimenez
Jorge Jimenez stands near a podium

Student Ambassador Jorge Jimenez presents an overview of his NASA experience during the STS-127 Pre-Launch Education Forum. Image Credit: NASA

In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I have been a NASA MUST (Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology) Scholar since its beginnings in 2006. I have been a summer intern at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, since the summer of 2007, and I was just recently nominated to be a NASA Student Ambassador.

MUST is a scholarship, mentorship and internship project that facilitates and enriches an undergraduate education in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement, and why this topic is important.

Throughout my three summers as an intern, I have been involved with the NASA fNIRS Project. fNIRS stands for Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, and its applications to aviation safety are currently being researched at NASA's Glenn Research Center.

The goal of fNIRS is to develop the instrumentation and metrics for monitoring aeronautic pilots' cognitive state by monitoring changes in oxy- and deoxygenated hemoglobin concentrations in various regions of the brain.

Hemoglobin is the main carrier of oxygen to the brain and is required for neurons to function properly. It is theorized that by measuring blood oxygenation in different areas of the brain, it is possible to tell whether or not these regions are "activating" due to stimulus or due to activity related to pilot attentiveness.

The project forms part of the Aviation Safety Program at NASA in its attempt to better protect and utilize our airways.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

The most exciting part of my research has been the opportunity to build and work with a team of truly brilliant individuals. We all come from different academic backgrounds: physics, biomedical engineering, mathematics and even chemistry.

It has been exciting to be part of this "new wave of science" where all disciplines come together to contribute to a project that is both interdisciplinary and cutting-edge. Learning to work with people from all these backgrounds has taught me to understand and appreciate all points of view, especially when describing essentially the same thing in a different way.

What is your educational background and what are your future educational plans?

I am a rising senior at Boston University. I am a mathematics major but have a diverse undergraduate education that includes many science (physics, chemistry and biology) and engineering courses.

In the future, I plan on furthering my STEM education by attending a graduate school and pursuing an advanced degree (master's or doctorate) in the area of pure and applied mathematics.

What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?

Originally a biomedical engineering major, I eventually came to appreciate pure math as a discipline and eventually turn it into a full-blown career path. I have always had a fascination for abstraction and for being able to "re-use the same math" in different and sometimes seemingly unrelated areas.

I first learned to appreciate the flexibility of mathematics when I realized that the same math I was using to understand electric circuits could be used to study harmonic oscillators (such as the suspension system on your car). This same math can be extended to the study of atoms and their behavior, as well as many other physics and engineering applications, including my current area of research at NASA.

In a sense, I came to see mathematics as a language that was spoken and understood by many disciplines, and I one day hope to be the link between these disciplines and truly bring exciting research projects to a new level of interdisciplinary interaction.

What do you think will be the most important things you’ll take away from your involvement with NASA?

My experience at NASA has consisted of more than just my involvement with research and projects. At NASA, theory and jargon become day-to-day conversation material, and problems become challenges rather than battles. For example, I never thought I would use optics (the study of light) to literally glimpse into the mental processes of a human being.

Applying math to real-life problems is something that cannot be learned in a classroom or in a lab. It took a place like NASA to truly see a purpose to my hard work, and I think many in my position would have similar things to say.

How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?

Aside from having an impressive curriculum and set of experiences for the rest of my life, I have gained the ability to create new projects and build great teams of people.

I hope to be able to build a career with NASA and take my learning, as well as my contributions, to the next level by using what I know to improve our quality of life here on Earth and, eventually, Mars and beyond.

What are your future career plans?

My career goals have changed dramatically over the past years and will probably continue to adapt and change in form as I gain more experience and context.

I have a high-quality problem in that I almost feel like I have too many options, all of which involve the interaction between mathematics and how it not only describes, but also interacts with the various disciplines that will help shape the future world -- your world.

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

I got into NASA by first getting heavily involved with science fairs during high school (such as the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, or ISEF for short). This involved changing my mindset about science fairs in general. My project involved more than just a fizzy baking soda volcano, and my rewards involved more than just a pretty ribbon.

I would encourage you strongly to not only excel academically, but find a passion and pursue it in ways that can be tangibly measured by an outside observer. Do you like computers? Learn how to build your own software or design circuit boards and make a project out of it. If you like chemistry or biology, go beyond learning about atomic orbitals and Lewis Structures and figure what makes today's adhesives so powerful, or why certain medications create unwanted side effects in certain people.

The trick is to find something that challenges you, but also something that you really enjoy. Be curious, be confident, and, most importantly, be ruthless in mastering and understanding the concepts that define your discipline. If you do all this, I can almost guarantee that you will not only meet but probably exceed your own expectations and the expectations of others, including NASA recruiters.

How might you expect to contribute as a participant as a NASA Student Ambassador?

I plan on having a pivotal role in defining the future success of NASA and its new virtual community of high-achieving and highly influential interns. I believe that one of my strongest talents is to recognize and address areas that need improvement, and then take the necessary steps and get the right people together to create what is needed.

I plan to lead by example and find new ways of creating a professional community that encourages current members to use their talents, introduces new members and allows them to contribute immediately, and supports ex-members in their endeavors -- whatever those might be!

I'm excited about the contributions I plan on making, but I am also excited about what I will discover along the way. The end goal for me will be to create a great journey and to inspire others to do the same. I hope to see you there, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later!

Related Resources:
>  NASA Student Ambassadors
>  NASA's Spotlight: High-Performing Intern, Jorge Alberto Jimenez
>  Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology
>  NASA's Glenn Research Center
>  Study Investigates Mental Overload in Pilots
>  NASA Education