The Heat Is On
Lawson sits in an aircraft pilot's seat

During her internship, Lawson had the opportunity to tour NASA facilities and equipment, such as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Image Credit: Laura Lawson

An internship opportunity at NASA can open up new worlds of possibility for a student, so it was only fair for Laura Lawson to return the favor. A student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Lawson spent the summer of 2008 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where she participated in research that could open new possibilities for exploration of the planet Venus.
In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I participated in the NASA Space Grant program. My grant was awarded by the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium, which is located at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement, and why this topic is important.

The research I took part in is supporting NASA's plans to explore the planet Venus. Temperatures on Venus are extremely high, 480 degrees Celsius. Current electronics cannot function at this temperature. The objective of my research was to evaluate the reliability of Silicon Carbide, or SiC, technology, a technology that could allow future electronics to withstand Venus' high temperatures. This (evaluation) was accomplished by characterizing and performing reliability testing at 500 C on small-signal SiC JFETs, or junction field-effect transistors.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

The most exciting part of my research was knowing that I was making a contribution to NASA's ability to explore another planet.

What is your educational background and what are your future educational plans?

I will graduate in May 2009 with a bachelor's degree in systems engineering from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. My plans after graduation include pursuing a master's degree in electrical engineering.

Lawson wears a cleansuit in front of the cruise stage of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft

The results of research like Lawson's will be vital in sending spacecraft to explore other worlds. Image Credit: Laura Lawson

What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?

All of the questions I had when I was younger were answered with scientific explanations. I thank my parents for that. As a result, I developed a strong interest in science. I enjoyed learning how different things worked. Engineering was a natural pick for me.

What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your involvement with NASA?

I am very grateful for the research opportunity I had at JPL. I took away many things from my experience this past summer. I would say the most important was the advice I received from my mentors at JPL. I enjoyed the research I worked on this summer very much, and my experience encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree in electrical engineering.

How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?

I definitely learned a lot this summer, from the work I was doing and from the people I worked under. It was very beneficial for me. Hopefully my experience will give me an added advantage when applying for graduate schools and in searching for a full-time job.

What are your future career plans?

It is my goal to work in the aerospace industry. I have always been fascinated with flight and space exploration, and I believe this industry is the place for me.

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

I would advise college students to check with their local NASA Space Grant program for internship and research opportunities.
NASA's college internships are designed to increase the number of scholastically well-suited, highly qualified, diverse students achieving degrees in engineering, mathematics, science or related fields. They support NASA's goal of strengthening the agency's and the nation's future workforce.

Related Resources
NASA Education Web Site
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program
Arkansas Space Grant Consortium   →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services