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Meet a NASA Glenn Employee: Rebecca MacKay
September 29, 2011

Thousands of talented, dedicated and passionate people work at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. They are rocket scientists and engineers. They are researchers and physicists and chemists. They are aviation specialists, public affairs officers, administrative assistants, security officers, logistics managers and more. With countless specializations in myriad fields, the people of Glenn share one goal: working for the public in support of NASA's mission.

The diverse Glenn workforce is comprised of civil servants and on-site support contractors. Workers perform a large variety of different jobs at NASA Glenn. "My Job at NASA Glenn" is a series that introduces some of these workers. Learn about different employees and the interesting jobs they perform, and how their education prepared them to make unique and important contributions to NASA.

Rebecca MacKay

Job Title:

Materials Research Engineer
portrait - Rebecca MacKayRebecca MacKay
Image Credit: NASA

What that means:
I design, develop, test and analyze materials used in the aerospace field.

What I do:
My specialty is metallic materials that are capable of being used in the most demanding service conditions of jet engines. I work on figuring out why a material is strong and durable under high temperatures and high stresses. By focusing on the fundamental behavior of the material, modifications to either its composition or the way it is processed can lead to making an even stronger material. Ultimately, a stronger material can improve engine efficiency and can reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

The coolest / most interesting part of my job is:
When the "clues" of material behavior start coming in from mechanical testing and microscopy work. The pieces of the research "puzzle" are there, but you don't quite have the pieces together yet. Then, an idea will pop into your head, or maybe you'll talk to another researcher and they will say something that might cause you to think about something from a different angle. You work on getting more data, and then you figure out how the clues fit together. Sometimes being a researcher is very much like being a detective.

My favorite project that I have worked, or that I am working on, is:
Developing a new alloy for turbine blades. The alloy has lower density, excellent oxidation-resistance and improved high temperature strength compared with alloys that are currently flying.

The accomplishment that I am most proud of is:
Raising a son who has a good head on his shoulders!

In my career, my most proud accomplishment is the work that led to my patent on a new superalloy developed for turbine blades. I was able to reach back to get ideas from research I had performed early in my career, and couple that with things I had learned in my mid-career while working on a consortium with engineers from turbine engine companies. It took a career's worth of experience ultimately to develop that innovative alloy with my co-workers, and I am very, very proud of that work.

I have been very fortunate to have had supportive supervisors who have enabled me to participate in unique and exciting opportunities over the years. One of those experiences was leading an effort to determine the root cause of failure in space shuttle thrusters for the Return-to-Flight effort after the Columbia accident. I worked with engineers from other NASA centers and from industry. It was a very intense task and showed me a totally different perspective of NASA. As a team, we were able to determine when the cracks developed in the components and that the cracks would not likely propagate during subsequent service. It was truly a privilege to work on this task.

A Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education helped me by:
Building a strong foundation of understanding so that I could learn even more on the job. A good education can also teach you how to think analytically and help you figure out the manageable steps you can take to tackle tough scientific problems.

Good advice for students, including STEM students, is:
Work hard to understand the basics of whatever you are studying in school. Good grades are important, but it is even more important to truly understand what you're doing in class and why you are doing it. Set goals for where you want to go in your career and establish a plan of how to get there. Don't be afraid to try new things that might be outside of your comfort zone and ask plenty of questions. This is a field in which people enjoy sharing ideas, brainstorming, and talking about ideas as well as career experiences.

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Page Editor: NASA Administrator