Education

A Passion for Scientific Research
08.11.10
 
Sherrisse Bryant in JPL's Microdevices LabSherrisse Bryant adjusts equipment to test lab-on-a-chip technology in JPL's Microdevices Lab. Image credit: NASA/JPL

lab on a chipA CD-sized chip is being developed that can chemically analyze samples without having to bring them back to a lab. One day, a lab-on-a-chip may be part of a robotic lander on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL
by Sherrisse Bryant

My name is Sherrisse Bryant and I have a strong passion for scientific research.  It is very intriguing to me. I became interested in scientific research at a young age.  I would always watch science and medical research programs on television instead of other shows.  As a result of scientific research, discoveries and inventions have been made that allow us to live comfortably today and diseases have been cured.  Additionally, there is an abundance of knowledge about our planet, space and other planets.

After my freshman year at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla., I began doing laboratory research during the summer.  After that experience, I didn't want to stop! Each summer I participated in research programs and I also worked in the laboratory during the school semester. While participating in these programs and attending research conferences, I learned about opportunities to continue my education at the doctorate level and improve as a scientist and researcher.  Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.  I am beginning my fourth year in the program and I am a member of Doug Gilman's research group.  I am developing new analytical techniques to study enzyme inhibition.

At Louisiana State University, I learned about the NASA Harriet G. Jenkins Pre-doctoral Fellowship Program (JPFP), which aims to increase the number of underrepresented persons with masters' and doctoral degrees in the NASA educational "pipeline."  While preparing to apply for the fellowship, I became very interested in research being done at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that packs a CD-sized chip with systems that can test samples without being in a lab.  When I was selected to be a Harriet G. Jenkins Fellow, I chose Peter Willis as my NASA mentor, who, along with his JPL colleagues, is developing the lab-on-a-chip technology for possible future space missions.  I also won the Mini Research Award, which gives Harriet G. Jenkins Fellows the opportunity to conduct hands-on research at a participating NASA center with the endorsement of a NASA host scientist.  That is how I ended up at JPL and thus far, my on-site research experience at JPL has been wonderful.
 
Our research involves the development of miniaturized chip-based chemical analysis systems that can potentially be used on Mars as part of a robotic lander.  The device would analyze soil or ice samples to determine if there is any evidence of past or present life.  These devices can perform all the steps necessary for a chemical analysis, allowing us to take the lab to the sample instead of bringing the sample to the lab.  This is extremely useful for space exploration because we can send the device on a robotic lander to perform a complete analysis on-site.

Scientists are particularly interested in examining amino acids present in samples, as these are the building blocks of all life on Earth.  Our integrated lab-on-a-chip device is capable of automatically performing an entire sample analysis in the lab without human intervention.  I am working on optimizing chemical reactions on the device and demonstrating completely automated on-chip sample preparation and analysis.  Ultimately, we want this device to be sent to Mars to analyze real samples.

I am having a great experience at JPL.  I love the cooperative and collaborative work atmosphere here, and my research group members have been very supportive and kind.  I would recommend JPL to anyone interested in interning here.

To learn more about the Harriet Jenkins Fellowship, go to http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/postsecondary/features/F_Harriett_Jenkins_Fellowship_Program.html .

To learn more about internships at JPL, go to http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/internships/ .