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Already a Star, Calandrelli Tells Students to Aim High
Who are NASA's Earth and Space Science Explorers?

The middle school students who track weather to study its effect on bursting tree buds. And the scientist studying black holes in distant galaxies. But also the teacher whose class shares Earth science data with students around the world. And the engineer who designs robotic instruments to probe hard-to-reach planets. All of these people are Earth Explorers, Space Science Explorers or both. The Earth Explorers and Space Science Explorers series features NASA explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Emily Calandrelli has floated in zero gravity, traveled to the middle of the desert, searched for the potential for life on Mars and co-authored four published research papers. In 2009 alone, she was named to USA Today's All-USA College Academic First Team, received two prestigious scholarships, and was voted West Virginia University's Ms. Mountaineer for her exemplary academic achievement and extracurricular involvement.

Emily Calandrelli smiles as she floats aboard an airplane

Emily Calandrelli floats during a moment of weightlessness on a reduced-gravity flight. Image Credit: NASA
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That is not a bad resume, especially considering Calandrelli is only a senior in college.

A passion for space and an interest in mathematics and science during high school led Calandrelli to major in mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University. She is drawn not only to the challenge of space exploration but also to its benefits.

"I've always been in love with the stars and view the cosmos as the ultimate adventure," Calandrelli said. "Because of technologies from space exploration, we can begin to understand our world's origins, and our lives are improving. These are the reasons why dedicating a life to the sciences and space exploration is so meaningful and rewarding."

Throughout her college years, Calandrelli has worked on several NASA projects as part of NASA internships and student research programs. (Her NASA-related work has been funded primarily through the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium.) She has used lasers as part of research to reduce harmful emissions from jet engines. She has developed nanowires, incredibly thin wire-like structures, for use in chemical detection sensors. And she has studied the effect of gravity on different fluids, such as water and oil.

Calandrelli says the most interesting NASA project she has worked on was designing a simulation of the Phoenix Mars Lander's soil testing experiment. The Phoenix Mars Lander is a NASA spacecraft that landed on the Red Planet in May 2008 to study the history of water and potential for life on the planet. "We had the opportunity to work with the Phoenix Lander science team and were all able to get our hands dirty," Calandrelli said.

On several occasions, Calandrelli has presented her research to NASA engineers and scientists. What advice does she have for students who may get nervous about public speaking?

"The best advice is to practice your presentation so much that you could do it in your sleep," Calandrelli said. "When you are nervous, it becomes difficult to recall information and improvise. But if you have practiced so many times that you don’t even need to think about it, you should be fine."

Calandrelli works to ensure that other students have the same opportunities she has had to explore space. She and other West Virginia University students founded the Student Partnership for the Advancement of Cosmic Exploration, or SPACE. The group provides college students with information about space exploration activities and resources for financial support. It also reaches out to students and the public to promote awareness of the benefits of space exploration.

One point that Calandrelli stresses when she speaks to students is the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

"I tell students that I believe STEM majors have the most exciting opportunities than any other majors in college," said Calandrelli, whose success, leadership skills and commitment to public service earned her the 2009 Goldwater and Truman scholarships. "Because of engineering, I have been able to experience things I never thought I would be able to do as an undergraduate.

"I especially encourage females to get involved in these majors because we are in the minority (in these fields), and that needs to change. STEM majors come with challenges and exciting opportunities, and women should not be discouraged or intimidated because they think it is a 'guy major.'"

Related Resources
Phoenix Mars Mission
Meet the Next Space Science Explorers

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies