Thousands of talented, dedicated and passionate people work at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. They are rocket scientists and engineers. They are researchers and physicists and chemists. They are aviation specialists, public affairs officers, administrative assistants, security officers, logistics managers and more. With countless specializations in myriad fields, the people of Glenn share one goal: working for the public in support of NASA's mission.
The diverse Glenn workforce is comprised of civil servants and on-site support contractors. Workers perform a large variety of different jobs at NASA Glenn. "My Job at NASA Glenn" is a series that introduces some of these workers. Learn about different employees and the interesting jobs they perform, and how their education prepared them to make unique and important contributions to NASA.
Kim de Groh
Primary Job Title:
Senior Materials Research Engineer, Space Environment and Experiments Branch
Kim de Groh
Image Credit: NASA
What that means:
A materials research engineer studies materials (metals, polymers, ceramics or composites) for various engineering applications. I conduct research on materials for spacecraft applications such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station and other Earth orbiting satellites.
Project Job Title:
MISSE-X Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI)– Science Lead
What that means:
I am the Co-PI for a new NASA project called the Materials International Space Station Experiment-X (MISSE-X). MISSE-X will be a permanent external facility on the space station where researchers will be able to fly small experiments and expose their samples to the space environment to study environmental effects (i.e. if materials survive or degrade up in space). As the MISSE-X Co-PI I am responsible for the scientific integrity of the MISSE-X mission and I need to ensure that the mission science objectives are met.
What I do:
As a senior materials research engineer in the Space Environment and Experiments Branch at NASA's Glenn Research Center, I study the durability of materials in the space environment. Through experiments in space and ground-laboratory experiments, I assess how the space environment affects spacecraft materials.
Although space is a vacuum environment, there are many environmental factors that can damage spacecraft materials. These include x-rays, ultraviolet radiation, charged particle radiation (such as electrons that can cause Northern lights and protons), thermal cycling and temperature extremes, and atomic oxygen (individual oxygen atoms). To study the durability of spacecraft materials, I run tests in laboratory facilities on the ground. I also design, build and fly spaceflight experiments to determine whether spacecraft materials will be damaged in the space environment.
I have had numerous experiments that were flown in the cargo bay of the space shuttle and on the Russian Space Station Mir. Currently, I am the PI for 13 exterior International Space Station experiments. These experiments are part of a series of experiments called the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE). You can learn more about the MISSE experiments and see photos of MISSE here. And, in addition to being the Co-PI for the MISSE-X project, I am also the PI for a MISSE-X experiment called the "Erosion of Polymers and Composites." This experiment is expected to be flown during the launch of MISSE-X in 2014.
After I conduct an experiment, I analyze the data, write papers about the experiment and the results, and give presentations on the research results at national and international space conferences.
Since 1998, in a unique collaboration between NASA and Hathaway Brown (a school for young women in Shaker Heights, Ohio), I have been the on-site mentor and team leader for 25 young women working on a group of MISSE experiments known as the PEACE (Polymer Erosion and Contamination Experiment) project. The students typically join the team as freshman and work at NASA Glenn throughout their high school careers, conducting research. In addition to authoring technical publications at very young ages, PEACE team students have given oral and poster presentations at international space conferences, earned more than $80,000 in scholarships from national and international science fairs, and received prestigious college scholarships due to this collaboration.
The coolest / most interesting part of my job is:
I think the coolest part of my work is having experiments that are flown in space! Even after 10 years, I still find it very exciting to have my experiments taken up into space by astronauts, to have them placed outside of the space station by an astronaut during a space-walk, or in the future by a space station robotic arm.
Now I have a really great role in the new MISSE-X project. Currently, I am helping the MISSE-X designer engineers determine what the new MISSE-X design should be.
There are other fun things about my job. For example, I present my flight experiment results at national and international space conferences. I have given papers at conferences in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, France and Japan.
But, I think one of the best parts of my job is the interesting people I have met, including bright and energetic students, researchers from around the world and astronauts who have helped the MISSE project.
My favorite project that I have worked, or that I am working on, is:
I think my favorite project is a tie between my International Space Station flight experiments (MISSE and MISSE-X) and working on the Hubble Space Telescope program. For the Hubble program I had a direct impact on the insulation material chosen for the replacement solar arrays placed on Hubble during the first servicing mission. I have also analyzed insulation pieces retrieved from Hubble during each of the five servicing missions. The most recently retrieved Hubble material had been in space for 19 years!
The accomplishment that I am most proud of is:
The accomplishment that I am most proud of is being inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame (OWHF) in August 2009 by Ted Strickland, the former governor of Ohio. I was told I was chosen to be an OWHF inductee based on both my technical accomplishments and my student mentoring and outreach efforts. It is truly a great honor.
I feel fortunate to work in a field I truly enjoy and feel proud that my research has had an impact on the space program. I also have pride in the relationships I have developed over the years through mentoring students. Working with students, and seeing them grow and gain confidence, both technically and personally, has been very enjoyable and rewarding.
A Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education helped me by:
I have both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in materials science from the College of Engineering at Michigan State University. Without these degrees, and perhaps without my summer internship at NASA Glenn, I would not have been able to get my job at NASA.
Good advice for students, including STEM students, is:
My parents taught me that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, as long as you dedicate yourself to working on it. It might not be easy, and you might need to try several times to achieve it, but don't give up. Have confidence in yourself, and don't be afraid to get help if needed!
Keep in mind, if you are confident in your abilities, others will be too!
I think it is important to get shadow opportunities and summer jobs in the field(s) you are interested in to see if you really enjoy the work, and to gain contacts with people who learn of your abilities and skills. I think my summer internship at NASA was very important in helping me get my job at NASA.
I also think it is important to excel at whatever you're doing, but also to have fun while you're doing it. We spend so much time at work, it is really important to enjoy what you do - then you'll be happy doing it.
My last bit of advice is to keep the following quote in mind as you go through life:
"What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"