Student Features

Harkirat Sohi
portrait Harkirat SohiHarkirat Sohi. Image Credit: NASA.
  1. Which NASA program did you participate in prior to the Ambassadors Program and what was your major project for that program?

    I participated in the NASA Undergraduate Research Program (USRP) during the fall semester 2008 and in the NASA Academy Program during Summer 2010. My USRP project focused on investigating biofuels as an alternative fuel source for aviation. Specifically, I worked towards identifying and optimizing growth parameters for salt tolerant plant and algae species that can grow in a wide variety of salinity values and are high in oil content.

    My second project at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland was through the NASA Academy Program, during which I worked on the validation of the software backbone of the NASA Digital Astronaut Project. Specifically, I extracted experimental protocol and data from published studies, ran simulations in the Digital Human software and programmed in Matlab to create quantitative comparison routines for comparing experimental data and the simulation results.

    The interns of the Academy Program also worked on a group project that proposed and investigated the use of rail gun technology to launch payload from the moon.

  2. What are you majoring in and what college are you attending?

    I just graduated with my master's degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Washington. My bachelor's degrees are also from the University of Washington in Molecular & Cellular Biology and Applied & Computational Mathematical Sciences.

  3. What are your career goals? Are they with NASA?

    Yes! I would love to work at NASA. I have always been interested in space related sciences. My ideal career would allow me to combine my interests and background in biology, mathematics and computing. One day, I hope to be directly involved in designing and conducting space biology experiments in flight in space. I am also investigating the path to becoming an astronaut.

  4. Why did you choose to be a NASA Ambassador?

    I am passionate about math and science. And I am interested in a career where I get to investigate things and ask questions — much like the careers of many scientists working at NASA. After being at NASA for two internships, I have realized all the great potential that lies in working with some of the brightest minds in the scientific community. I chose to be a NASA Student Ambassador because it allows me to represent NASA and share with others, including students at my university and K-12 students in local schools, about my experience interning at NASA.

  5. What are your future goals in the Ambassador Program and what are you looking forward to in the program?

    My future goals are to inform as many K-12 and college students as possible about the potential internship opportunities at NASA and NASA's various education programs. I benefited greatly from my internships at NASA and I want more students to know about these opportunities and benefit from the internship experience at NASA. I am looking forward to the conference calls the NASA Student Ambassadors get to have with Nobel Laureates and scientists working on cutting edge research. It is a rare and unique opportunity and I hope to make the most of it.

  6. How has interning and being an ambassador at NASA helped you?

    It has given me a sense of belonging to NASA. Even though I have only interned at NASA for two semesters, I have received a great deal of support from the staff of the USRP and Academy programs at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and of course my mentors and colleagues who have helped me grow academically and professionally as a budding scientist. I can say that my last summer (2009), during which I was in the NASA Glenn Academy Program, was one of the most useful, busy, exciting and fun summers I have had because of our 9-5 research/lab work as well as a group project which I worked on with seven fellow Academy interns after work hours. We also took trips to other NASA centers and created lasting friendships and student-mentor relationships. Being a NASA Student Ambassador is an honor as it allows me to represent NASA and reflect on the wonderful experiences I have had as a student intern at NASA.

  7. What advice would you give to aspiring students who want to participate in the many opportunities NASA offers?

    Always keep looking for new opportunities. Don't be afraid to apply. And don't get discouraged if you don't make it into a program the first time. And give your 100%. Always. And lastly, the motivating factor should be your dreams and goals and not just the internship stipend.

  8. What have you experienced at NASA that stood out to you the most?

    I am amazed by how big the entire organization is and how people from different backgrounds are all working together towards a common mission of space exploration but in so many different ways. There is a wealth of information out there! People specialize in so many different fields and projects.

  9. How are you going to motivate students to pursue a career related to STEM? What motivated you?

    I think the best way to inspire students is to give them examples of people who started as students themselves, and have now left great marks in science and discovery. My motivation to pursue a STEM related career has come from some recent human achievements in science including the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969, the discovery of DNA in 1953, advancements in medicine and biomedical research, Einstein's theory of general relativity and advances in astronomy and our knowledge of the universe.

    These advancements in science may be taken for granted now but many of these were considered to be impossible tasks at the time when scientists were working on them. I believe that there are many scientific puzzles today that need to be worked on which many people might say are impossible. But it is our remarkable achievements from the past that assure me that many more are to come. I want to be one of the many people who gets to contribute to these achievements, and this is what has motivated me to pursue a career related to STEM.

-Reported by Aaron M. Greene, LERCIP intern

-Edited by Tori Woods, SGT Inc.
NASA's Glenn Research Center