In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?
Julian Corona, MUST Participant
I participated in NASA's MUST (project); that is, Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology. I first heard about this wonderful opportunity during my freshman year through the minority engineering director here at Notre Dame. He sent me an e-mail saying that I appeared to be a good candidate for this scholarship, considering everything that I had done throughout the year. So, I decided to give it a shot and apply for the scholarship. I cannot thank him enough for telling me about this program. I have learned many valuable skills, and made many friends and contacts, all while given the chance to work at NASA and given a great scholarship to help me pay for school.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.
This summer was my second summer interning with NASA. I was placed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory where I worked (in the Advanced Robotics Controls group) on analyzing signals recorded from the human body. Our project consisted of recording and decoding brain and muscle signals by using electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) signals respectively. These decoded signals would in turn be used to create tele-operation interfaces for remote robotic platforms. This would be demonstrated by using our mind, or movements of our arm, to wirelessly guide a remote-control vehicle through an obstacle course. This technology can be helpful in future NASA missions by providing an intuitive method of controlling robots. As robots become more complex by design, due to the complicated tasks required, it will be convenient for humans to be able to think of an action, or to move, and have the robot do what they want it to do.
Last summer, I conducted research with the Diagnostics and Prognostics group under the Prognostic Center of Excellence at the NASA Ames Research Center. My project consisted of diagnosing electro-mechanical actuators, or EMAs. Actuators are devices that convert electrical energy into mechanical energy. The actuators of our particular interest were ones used in aircraft, both for commercial and governmental use. In aircraft, EMAs are replacing hydraulic systems due to the fact that they are more reliable, cost-effective and lighter. The only down side to them is that there isn’t much research done on the prognostics and diagnostics of them. A failure in these components can cost the lives of people on a flight with a faulty EMA. Our research was used to create algorithms, which can not only diagnose but also predict these issues before they become a problem.
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
This summer I participated in a project that sounds really complicated in theory but is actually easy to implement. We are using signals recorded from the brain and muscles to control motorized vehicles. Before the beginning of the summer, I would have thought that this project was beyond our capabilities as undergraduates, but throughout the summer, and after a great deal of research, I knew enough to build my own sensors, which could record these types of signals. Once I learned how to record signals, I learned that the bigger challenge would be to try to decode the information received. I have always wanted to work on something that not many people have done, and this task seemed to satisfy my desire. Little information is out there as far as how we can decode this type of information. Therefore, I was able to apply my own new ideas to tackle this obstacle. I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer internship because of this constant demand for me to go outside the breadth of my knowledge and learn about something new and exciting.
What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?
I attend the University of Notre Dame where I am a double engineering major in mechanical and electrical engineering. My summers at NASA have helped me pick my path through school such as deciding to complete two degrees and pursuing a higher degree in the near future. I am not quite sure at this point what exactly I would like to direct my focus on in grad school, but I am very much interested in robotics, nano-technology and green energy.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
My inspiration came from many sources. In high school, I was involved in a program called Project Lead the Way. This program is designed to get high school students interested in the sciences, particularly in engineering. This is one of the major factors that pushed me toward engineering as a potential career. We did a lot of CAD (computer-aided design) work, and I really enjoyed the design aspect of it all. I was also very much interested in automotives, which was my main reason for choosing mechanical engineering. I took an auto shop class in which I was able to take apart car engines, as well as learn the basics of how engines work.
However, I would have to say that my family had the biggest impact on my decision. I discussed my plans with them for countless hours, and they supported me throughout the entire decision process, both in choosing a school and major. They gave me the best advice as to what I could do. Being a single parent and attending college are not the easiest things to do without the support that I was and currently am receiving from my parents. They have provided the inspiration needed to stay in school to pursue a career where the capabilities are endless.
What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your involvement with NASA?
I think that the most important things that I will take away are my interactions with the people in NASA and my experience at the workplace. For one, I feel that it is very important to network. At my internships, I have noticed that the most valuable information comes from the people that I work with directly. So the best way to get to know more about NASA and the atmosphere at the workplace is through my mentors and coworkers. From these interactions, I have been able to gauge how they genuinely feel about their jobs. I enjoyed doing research during my summer experience, and I feel that it is something that I can do after college. In addition to these interactions, I have gained invaluable experiences through working for NASA. Not only have I gained research experience, but I have gained experience writing a technical paper and presenting my findings to a large audience. This summer, I worked with a group of interns who taught me the importance of teamwork and communication between all members.
How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?
My involvement with NASA has strongly encouraged me to pursue research. I have always been interested in learning why things work the way they do, and what better way to pursue my passions than by doing research? NASA has motivated me to go to grad school and obtain a higher degree. In addition to helping me decide what I want to do, my experience with NASA has given me critical experience that has helped me better understand life outside of college, more specifically about life at the workplace.
What are your future career plans?
My future career plans are still in the works. I would love to work for NASA someday, but I am still a bit unsure of what exactly I would like to specialize in. I am very much interested in robotics and electronics and efficiency. So a mixture of the three would be ideal, but I am still unsure as to what other opportunities there are available for me. I feel that some time in the near future I will discover what I would truly like to pursue.
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?
Do not be hesitant in doing so. Please make a step forward. I have noticed that many people do not apply to such scholarships just because they feel that they are not qualified, when in fact they may be. If there are opportunities to work with NASA, which there are plenty of, please take the initiative of doing a simple search online to see what is available. The NASA website is full of opportunities available to people of all ages and backgrounds. I would say the best way to get involved with NASA is to talk to someone who already has experience with NASA.
› NASA Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology
› NASA's Ames Research Center
› NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
› NASA Education
› NASA Student Programs
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services