Features

United Arab Emirates Student Diaries
07.09.10
 
As part of an agreement between NASA and the non-profit Arab Youth Venture Foundation (AYVF), three United Arab Emirates (UAE) nationals will start a student internship program at NASA Ames.
Left to right: Shamma Alqassim, Hazza BaniMalek and Hamad Rajab.
Photo Credit: NASA / Eric James
Click photo for larger image.
As part of an agreement between NASA and the non-profit Arab Youth Venture Foundation (AYVF), three United Arab Emirates (UAE) nationals are pursuing student internships at NASA Ames. Here are their first-hand accounts of their internship experience so far this summer.

Shamma Alqassim
NASA Intern, Mubadala UAE Research Scholar

When people first hear about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the first few things that spring to mind are the images of astronauts, satellites and big shiny airplanes. I have the honor of becoming one of the first non-US citizens to intern here at NASA Ames Research Center in California and become involved in real scientific research. In less than three weeks, I have managed to see and learn about things that I once thought only existed on television. During my ten-week internship, I will be working on the analysis and modeling of satellite data, and using those results and findings along with other factors, to predict earthquakes before they actually occur. It is truly exhilarating to work at a place where space exploration, rockets and landing on the moon are considered to be completely and utterly normal!

While many people suggest that the first few weeks of an internship may turn out to be dull or uneventful, I believe through my experience here at NASA, that this claim is not true. During my time here, I have learned a great deal about earthquakes and how a diverse range of factors all become intertwined and affected before the occurrence of this phenomenon. Moreover, I have also become familiar with the different types of satellite data that we will be analyzing during the coming weeks.

What is so incredibly unique about this program, is that not only are we provided exposure to a scientific work environment and an opportunity to become involved in ongoing research projects, we also are given a chance to socialize and network with the NASA community. Through the various guided tours and weekly seminars presented by NASA scientists about their research and findings, as well as many other activities, we are given an opportunity to meet people involved in a mind-blowing range of cutting-edge research.

Recently, I attended a seminar where it was confirmed that there is water on the moon, based on the latest findings and data obtained from the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). This is truly groundbreaking.

Most importantly, amidst all the excitement, our NASA hosts have taken special care to make us feel extremely welcome. Wherever we go, the scientists and officials ensure that none of our questions go unanswered. And our learning is all hands-on. Education can't get any better. It’s exciting and thrilling to pass by the massive hangars, the distinctive and fancy airplanes, and one of the world’s largest wind tunnels, as I walk to work every morning.

Hazza Bani Malek
NASA Intern, Mubadala UAE Research Scholar

It was a Thursday morning and I was waiting at the airport for my new friend and fellow intern, Hamad, and Lisa LaBonté, the chief executive officer of the Arab Youth Venture Foundation (AYVF), to arrive. It was to be my first trip off of United Arab Emirates (UAE) soil on an airplane. Suddenly, everything happened so fast. We boarded the flight and took off. Sixteen hours later, we landed in San Francisco, my first city in America.

We spent the first weekend trying to settle in, and fortunately, we had Lisa with us. She grew up in Silicon Valley and so helped us a lot. We bought some groceries, opened a bank account with Bank of America, got a SIM card for our blackberrys, and even a mountain bike and helmet for trekking across NASA Ames Research Center to work. Infrastructure is important, as it sets the stage for things to come!

The first week was cool. We attended an orientation day where they introduced us as the first international students, “Emiratis,” working in the NASA internship program. The same day, we met our mentors and had a chance to get to know each other.

As a warm-up, I was assigned to work on some Automation upgrades and new implementations to the electrical system of the facility I’m working in. They asked me to modify the original automation code with something new and handed me a six- inch stack of documents to research; and away I went to study. As it turned out, the new device that will be implemented into the whole automation system requires writing my own code, which is kind of cool – and a little daunting. But I can do it.

I spent this month trying to learn more and more so I can make sure to do a great job, and leave a remarkable footprint here. I am still working on this project and I hope I can get my code done by next week. That’s when the magic happens: when you see that your new project is actually succeeding and meets the expectations of the team and the mission.

On the weekends, we usually arrange some trips with the other interns to places where we can have fun, such as an aquarium or a theme park, or perhaps a picnic and some conversation. Wherever we go, we all have a good time.

There are a lot of interesting people, smart scientists and cool interns from whom I can learn a lot, just by sitting with them and having a small chat. I finally realized that there are no limitations to your ambition to what you want to learn or become; it just needs a little bit of hard work and good will to become reality. And that was what makes me keep studying, not only for my own good, but for the good of my country's future, and also so that we can pass on the education we learn to the next generation of students. Learning can be enjoyable – especially if you like what you are studying.

Hamad Rajab
NASA Intern, Mubadala UAE Research Scholar

I have always had my own small English dictionary, which I frequently use to look up the meanings of words I do not know. Impossible was one word I have looked up, and was found to be an exact antonym of “possible.” Since then, travelling through the daily path of life has emphasized that impossible is really possible, if you have the will and ambition.

Since it was established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has never accepted non-US citizens as interns in any of its research centers. However, the Arab Youth Venture Foundation (AYVF), together with Mubadala Development Company, have made it possible and achievable. Here I am, a 21-year-old Emirati student, together with two of my new Emirati colleagues, Hazza and Shamma, also official interns at NASA Ames Research Center. That is a pride for my country in the first place, and the whole United Arab Emirates (UAE) society, and I hope to play a valuable role as I get older in the continued success especially in the engineering field.

From small spacecraft to supercomputers, science missions and payloads, to wind-tunnels, information technology and aerospace, I walk around NASA Ames Research Center from one building to another, and proudly participate in finding engineering solutions that can help in accomplishing actual NASA missions and expanding human knowledge.

I have been assigned to assist the team developing, designing and implementing the control system of Ames Research Center’s green building water recycling system. This new system will reduce potable water consumption by more than 90 percent, compared to an equivalent-size building of conventional design. In addition, the project aims to have zero net energy consumption and significantly reduce maintenance costs.

Almost every morning while riding my bicycle heading to work, a crazy idea pops into my mind to improve the design of the control system I had in mind the day before. NASA Ames is a place for creativity and I consider it to be the master key to unlock students’ potential and help them achieve their best possible performance.

In addition, the social life at the NASA center is quite interesting and comfortable with all the other distinguished fellows and interns. Going out of my room will guarantee a short discussion about any hot technological topic with a curious intern. Those chats and discussions have significantly motivated me to explore well beyond the theoretical knowledge limits. Also, the social activities, events and trips that are usually held during the weekends, are a good way to relax and enjoy California’s landmarks and weather after a long, beneficial and exciting work week.

It is a great and prestigious opportunity to learn and exchange ideas and culture with a multidisciplinary, high-profile society of scientists, researchers, engineers and students. I am much more than happy to be a part of this historic internship. As tomorrow’s Emirati engineer, I promise that I will make the most of this internship to accomplish the vision and achieve the missions of the United Arab Emirates. I have always believed what they say “Success is a journey, never a destination.”