Howard Branch - Cold Hands Working, Warm Heart at Rest
Although supervisory aerospace engineer Howard Branch works with cryogenics, a pretty cool area, his warmth shows when he volunteers with his church’s mentoring program for young men.
Assistant Division Chief
Formal Job Classification:
Supervisory Aerospace Engineer
Organization He Works For:
Code 550, Instrument Systems and Technology Division, Engineering Directorate
What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
Part of a typical day often involves responding to actions, which could be anything. Beyond that, I help run the division, which might involve issues ranging from institutional to projects to personnel.
My biggest tool is my computer. I used to work in the lab in the Cryogenics and Fluids Branch so I worked with cryogens such as liquid helium and liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is about minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit so it easily freezes or actually burns human skin on contact. Liquid helium is even colder; it is almost minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit. Liquid helium is approaching absolute zero in temperature degrees Kelvin, which is very exciting to engineers and scientists. Getting as close as possible to absolute zero in temperature is sort of a Holy Grail for low temperature practitioners. We can readily get to below a tenth of a degree Kelvin, but no one has yet gotten all the way to zero degrees Kelvin.
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Photo of Howard Branch. Credit: NASA/W. Hrybyk
As a supervisor, how do you promote teamwork or collaboration within your team?
To maximize our efficiency, we must work as a team. We try to share resources. In my current position, I manage other supervisors. We try to explain why we want them to do something. I lead by example by doing the same things that I ask them to do.
Who is the most personally influential person you have met or worked with at Goddard?
When I arrived at Goddard 29 years ago, my immediate supervisor, Robert Callens, was my guide, mentor, and cheerleader all in one. Back then it was part of a supervisor’s job. I like to think that from my first day as a supervisor myself, I am continuing this tradition.
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?
In addition to working with cryogenics, we are often asked to show visitors what we do. So we demonstrate by, for example, dipping a banana into the liquid nitrogen, which instantly freezes it. Then we continue our demonstration by hitting the frozen banana against something to make it crack into pieces. The audience loves seeing this.
What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their career at Goddard?
One of the things I say is to learn your craft and become the best you can at the craft itself. This is so important! Do not get distracted by glittering stars on the side. All the rest of the stuff such as supervisory responsibilities will come later. Also, always maintain decorum in the workplace.
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
I help with my church’s youth mentoring program for young men of middle school age. Generally we are paired with one young man with whom we meet three Saturdays a month, twice for help with class work and once for an outing.
Do you have a favorite way, or place to kick back, relax or have fun?
One of the things I like to do is listen to my vinyl music collection. I like varied types of music including blues possibly because of my Mississippi heritage, rhythm and blues, jazz, Gospel, and old-school rap.
› More Conversations With Goddard
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.