Text Size

Olivia Lenz, MUST Participant
Olivia Lenz with a laptop computer in a laboratory

Olivia Lenz plans to continue to work in nanotechnology after earning her Ph.D. Image Credit: Olivia Lenz

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

I participated in the Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology -- MUST -- program with NASA. This program provides an academic scholarship, a paid NASA summer internship, and professional development courses and mentorship. I found the program on my school's -- Seattle Pacific University -- student financial services website. I clicked on the link provided and started filling out the application quickly, as I found it only about a week before the deadline!

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

At NASA Ames (Research Center in California), I researched the synthesis of zinc oxide nanowires through a simple solution-based method. Previously, ZnO nanowires had been synthesized through a high-temperature path that ended with the nanowires attached to a silicon chip. For our application, we did not want them attached, so I was given the task to develop a working method to produce them on a large scale without the silicon chip or any other attachments. We were able to succeed in synthesis and created a systematic study of the time, temperature, molar ratio and concentration dependence of the growth.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

The most exciting part of my research is when I get to see the product of my reactions underneath the scanning electron microscope, or SEM. The SEM produces wonderful images of my synthesized nanowires, and success only comes with seeing good nanowires underneath the scope.

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

I am currently a junior at Seattle Pacific University, a small, private, Christian college in Washington state. I am a chemistry major and clothing and textiles minor. After graduation next year, I hope to study abroad through either the Fulbright or Rhodes fellowship programs. Then I would like to attend graduate school for materials science, with a concentration on nanomaterial synthesis.

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

There is not necessarily one moment or person that inspired me to choose material science as I journeyed to my decision. I started my undergraduate studies as a chemical engineering major, but discovered that I really loved working in chemistry lab more than I like the engineering work. And when I looked into jobs for chemical engineers, I found none of them appealing. Materials science was brought to my attention as a good combination of application and lab work, and after a summer at NASA in the field, I am hooked!

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

One of the most important things I will take away from my time at NASA is how to work both independently and on a team in the research setting. While most of my research was done on my own, I needed the support of fellow researchers to get my work done well.

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

I think that my NASA involvement will open doors to graduate schools, fellowships and jobs. All of which could be with NASA, in academia or in industry; I am not sure quite yet.

What are your future career plans?

After earning a Ph.D. in materials science, I am not sure where I would like to work. I would like to have a job in the nanotechnology area, especially if it involves synthesis, so I think I will end up either in academia or possibly back at NASA. I have not ruled out working in industry either, as I had a great internship with a local Seattle company a few years ago. Mainly, I want to do full-time research wherever I can find a job.

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

Look over the educational program website at nasa.gov and apply for anything that catches your eye! I am a huge fan of their high school INSPIRE (Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience) program, my MUST program, the USRP (Undergraduate Student Research Project) and the GRSP (Graduate Student Researchers Project). I think that whatever stage you are at in your academic pursuit, apply for a program and get involved. My time with NASA was incredibly rich and rewarding.

Related Resources:
›  NASA Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology
›  NASA's Ames Research Center
›  NASA Education
›  INSPIRE Project for High School Students
›  Graduate Student Researchers Project
›  Undergraduate Student Research Project
›  NASA Student Programs

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services