Episode 13: Kennedy Space Center Internships

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Episode 13: Kennedy Space Center Internships
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guests: Angela Beaman, Graduate Student Research Project participant, and Dr. Gregg Buckingham, chief of the education programs and university research division of external relations at Kennedy Space Center

(0:00) Intro

(0:19) Applications are being accepted through May 25, 2007, for the Pre-Service Teacher Institute   → at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(1:20) Interview with Dr. Gregg Buckingham. The chief of the education programs and university research division of external relations at Kennedy Space Center describes student opportunities at the NASA center in Florida.

       Kennedy Space Center Student Opportunities   →
       Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology Project   →
       NASA Undergraduate Student Research Project
       Space Grant

(4:34) Interview with Angela Beaman. Iowa State University graduate student Angela Beaman discusses basil plant research and her experience with NASA's Graduate Student Researchers Project.

       NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project
       STS-118 Shuttle Mission

(15:47) End

Send your comments or questions to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 13. May 9, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

Applications are being accepted for the Pre-Service Teacher Institute at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This two-week residential, professional development opportunity is for college students who are preparing to teach elementary or middle school students. Using a problem-based learning aerospace theme, students will increase mathematics and science teaching skills. It's scheduled June 3-15, 2007, and the hosting institution is the University of Central Florida, which will provide faculty to teach the problem-based learning technique. Participants must be full-time rising juniors or seniors at an accredited minority institution. Applications will be accepted through May 25 or until available slots have been filled. For more information, go to www.nasa.gov/podcast. Click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast and follow the link in this week's show notes.

The Pre-Service Teacher Institute is one of many learning opportunities NASA offers at Kennedy Space Center. I spoke recently with Dr. Gregg Buckingham, chief of the education programs and university research division of external relations at Kennedy Space Center.

Dr. Gregg Buckingham
Dr. Gregg Buckingham: When you're going through school, whatever you're studying, you learn a lot of academic concepts. You read the books. You read the papers. When you come and do an internship at NASA, and particularly Kennedy Space Center, you really get to see the application of those academic concepts. So, it makes you a very well-rounded student when you come out of school. You've got some hands-on experience, to know about those theories and the concepts you're learning in the classroom.

Deana: Tell us about some of the internship opportunities at Kennedy Space Center.

Dr. Buckingham: We have a lot of opportunities for interns, especially at the undergraduate level, at Kennedy. We have a host of NASA programs, like the Undergraduate Student Research Program and the MUST [Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology] program. But we also have local programs. We have a KSC internship we're starting, where folks can apply directly to KSC. We also take Space Grant interns. And there's a Space Grant in every state in the country. So, students can apply through their Space Grant to do an internship at a NASA center, and Kennedy is one of those centers.

Deana: How do you recommend that people get information? If students are interested in participating in an internship, where would you say that they should start?

Dr. Buckingham: They can start on the NASA portal. The very top page has a section for students where they can go in and begin to look through the various programs available. Very readily, they'll come to contacts at the different centers. Then they can call or e-mail us for more information about Kennedy's specific opportunities. We try and hook people up to talk with an engineer before they apply, so that when they do apply, they can say something about that activity in their application.

Deana: Do you usually have a lot of students to apply each year for the different projects?

Dr. Buckingham: We do. Kennedy seems to attract a lot of folks. The Undergraduate Student Research Program, which we have about a dozen slots for, but Kennedy usually gets between 500 and 600 applicants for that one program. So we do seem to attract a lot of students.

Deana: It must be an incredibly rich experience for the students that make it.

Dr. Buckingham: I think it's a great experience for a student. Because Kennedy is not a research center, we're very task-oriented. We are processing the next thing that's going to fly, both the rocket and the payload itself. And so students get to see how all that comes together. If it's a rover from JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory], then they will see that the rover comes down and the JPL folks come down. The rocket would be a Delta rocket, probably. And they will get to see how all that gets mated and comes together, and then the actual launch. It's a team effort with whatever centers were involved in whatever the payload is. It's a team effort. So they really get a picture of Kennedy, but also, through us, other centers that are involved.

Deana: One of the students participating in NASA learning opportunities at Kennedy Space Center is Angela Beaman. She's a graduate student in horticulture at Iowa State University and the recipient of a NASA Graduate Student Research Project training grant.

The focus of her research is growing basil plants, an activity that a lot of students will be involved with as part of NASA's Engineering Design Challenge during the 2007-2008 school year. The first Educator Astronaut, Barbara Morgan, and her fellow crewmates will take up two plant growth chambers along with 10 million basil seeds on the STS-118 space shuttle mission later this year. These seeds will be exposed to microgravity and brought back to Earth to be used in classrooms throughout the nation as students design, analyze, build and assess plant growth chambers as part of the Engineering Design Challenge.

The research Angela Beaman is conducting with basil may be helpful to students who participate in the design challenge. She's investigating the growth of basil in hydroponic systems -- cultivating plants in nutrient solution rather than in soil. She plans to teach basic horticulture skills or a similar subject at the junior college or upper high school level when she finishes her master's degree.


Angela, what factors have influenced your choice of a career?

Angela Beaman leans on table covered with basil plants
Angela Beaman: Back in second grade, I met the most amazing teacher. She was my teacher in second grade. Her name was Mrs. [Rose] Daugio, at Iroquois Point Elementary in Hawaii. She was so passionate and energetic and fun. She taught us basic skills like math and writing, and that enthusiasm and passion really rubbed off on me, and I've wanted to be a teacher ever since.

Now that I've found a really strong passion of mine being plants, and teaching basic plant mechanisms and how to make your own garden be self-sustaining, and just basic skills for making food crops, I want to share that passion with other people. I know there are people like me out there that want to do the same thing. I've known since I was very small that I wanted to be a teacher, and now I know what to teach. It's overwhelming and exciting, and I can't wait to do it.

Deana: How long will it be until you actually start teaching?

Angela: I'm teaching now. I'm teaching a basic horticulture lab here at Iowa State twice a week. It's the highlight of my week, and I spend probably too much time planning for it. I really enjoy it. But to actually do it as a career, without going to school anymore, probably about two years, maybe three. I'm almost there.

Deana: Tell us about the research you're conducting.

Angela: We're evaluating five different types of basil in a nutrient film technique system. It's a hydroponic system very common with commercial growers. We're using one singular nutrient solution providing all of the nutrients at a good balance for pH and soluble salts. With this particular experiment, we have the same level of irradiance, or light. We have ten high-pressure sodium lamps about 3 feet above the plants, and we're evaluating the top two performers of those five different types of basil. We've run three experiments so far. We're going to run about two more.

Another experiment we're running right now is in growth chambers. We have four different growth chambers, and we're testing four different levels of light, measured in micromoles or microEinsteins. We're testing 300, 400, 500 and 600 micromoles of light on three different types of basil. So far we've selected three types that are very good performers. We're just about done with the first run. We're going to do two more, and after that we're going to do more detailed experiments based on the results that we're getting now.

Deana: What kind of results are you getting? Are the basil seeds easy to work with? What kind of performance are you seeing?

Angela: Basil is extremely easy to work with, which is really nice. We're finding that under different levels of light, we're getting much faster growth and more succulent growth, which makes it easier to harvest and easier to process for eating or for drying. We're also finding when we use a dwarf cultivar, one that's been bred to be shorter, it doesn't work as well in a hydroponic system. It doesn't grow as fast, and it doesn't produce as much biomass for eating, or workable material that we can use. So far that's what we've found. We found one particular cultivar, Nufar, is best for disease resistance and fungal resistance, which is great. So far that's it.

Deana: As far as any disease or fungus, do you run into as much of that with hydroponics as you do with plants that you actually have in soil?

Angela: It depends on the greenhouse or the controlled environment that it's in. Here at Iowa State we have really old greenhouses, so we have to be careful with algae and other pathogens and insects that come in through the screening and the cracks in the structure itself. We have to be very careful here. In more modern or up-to-date facilities, there's not much concern with pathogens or fungus, although algae is an issue with any hydroponic system. We're a little unique here because our facilities are so old, be we're doing OK. We just have to keep on it several times a day.

Deana: You've been doing this, obviously, for quite a while. A lot of students are going to start working with basil as part of NASA's Engineering Design Challenge. Do you have any basic tips that you could offer to students who will be working with the plants?

Angela: Oh, sure. If you're working with basil, it's near instant gratification for crop production. You can go from dry seeds that are about 1 to 2 millimeters long to something you can use in your food -- salad or any entrée, or you can freeze it -- within a month. So for crop production, that's almost instant. It's wonderful. It's instant gratification gardening, really. If you're going to use hydroponics, be careful with monitoring your pH. You really need to watch it at least once a day. I measure mine in the morning and then once again late in the afternoon. You can adjust it really easily using all kinds of products, or even just water to dilute things out. So, careful monitoring using hydroponics. If you're going to use potting mix and pots and setting out in the greenhouse or in growth chambers with lights, there's a little less monitoring, but you need to watch them at least once a day. Watch your watering. Other than that, basil is just very easy and wonderful to work with.

Deana: Do you think your research has potential applications in space?

Angela: So far, yes. Especially using the nutrient film technique. You can modify it using arcillite clay, which is what is actually being used on the International Space Station now. It looks like kitty litter. You use much less water. Right now, the system I'm using is using full-on water. There's nothing buffering it and nothing absorbing it. Up in space, you're very limited with the water resources, and if you use the arcillite clay, you can pretty much do everything that I'm doing right now up there on a much smaller scale. And again, you can get edible material or edible biomass within, I would say, even 14 days. You can use the stress of being in a very cold, metal box up in space, or even in terrestrial exploration like on Mars or the moon, and you can have something green that smells good and is very familiar, just green plant material, within two weeks. You can have wonderful, lush growth within a month. Absolutely.

Deana: How did you become involved with NASA?

Angela: Back in the spring of 2005, I did an independent study project with hydroponics and basil, under the direction of my major professor, Dr. [Richard] Gladon. It was just an independent study project, and he was working with another graduate student under a NASA grant. That graduate student left the university, and he had this project that was just sitting up there in the air. As a result of my performance with my independent study project, my major professor said, “You'd be a great candidate to take over this project.” That's how I got introduced into NASA. I was just in the right place at the right time.

My obsession with my basil and the hydroponics system has really shown the whole horticulture department here -- even the department head noticed -- that this is what I need to be doing. They just inserted me right into that, and I've been going very heavy on it ever since.

Deana: Do you have any advice for students who are considering NASA learning opportunities?

Angela: Oh, yes. Try everything you can. Apply for everything you can. There's so much good work out there. There are so many opportunities to get involved with NASA, from an undergraduate through graduate and beyond. There are so many spots open. Just try everything you think you might be interested in. You'll be surprised at how much other stuff is in there and how many other things you can do. If you're at all interested in science and plants, or even ecology, if you want to go that route, NASA is a wonderful place to go.

Deana: It's interesting you say that, because I think that's something a lot of people wouldn't think of necessarily. It's not a natural connection, is it?

Angela: No. I talked with people at Kennedy Space Center this past December, and even the campus, the whole campus there, is a nature preserve. There is a ton of work being done on ecology and restoration and conservation. You wouldn't think a space agency would be doing that, but they're just as interested in preserving the Earth environment, from the oceans to the soil to the air, just as much as they are in [preservation] outside of Earth. So, try not to think so much inside the box there, because they're all over the place, and there's so much work to be done. They're doing great work, absolutely.

Deana:You can find links to more information about the NASA projects and learning opportunities mentioned on this podcast in the show notes for this week's episode. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.

We want to hear from you. If you have questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for listening.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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