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Claire Dudek: Impacting Life on Earth
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When not shaving seconds off her most recent breaststroke time, summer intern Claire Dudek is analyzing temperature and disease data from across the world.

Name: Claire Dudek
Age: 17
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
Position: Summer Intern
Code: 618, Biospherical Sciences
School: Recent graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, attending Smith College in the fall
Projected Major: Biology or Engineering
Mentor: Lahouari Bounoua

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?

My project is focused on finding a correlation between temperature and the spread of disease. I look at data that we have about the disease Leishmaniasis Major that is found mainly in the region of Saida in Algeria, and then compare the number of cases to several years of collected temperature data. Leishmaniasis Major is spread through infected rodents to people by the bite of the sandflies that are native to that region. Our research will have direct implications for the welfare of human life because we could make discoveries that lead to the eventual extinction of the disease.

The most interesting thing that has happened to me so far was the moment when I realized a big correlation in the temperature data from one year and the disease cases from the next year. The temperatures had been abnormally high during the first year, causing a decline in the rates of sandfly reproduction, which reduced the spread of disease the next year. It’s hard to explain how amazing it feels to suddenly find a correlation after so many hours of analyzing data.

What inspired you to apply for this internship?

Photo of Claire Dudek› Larger image
Photo of Claire Dudek standing in front of an image of Africa taken by Landsat-4 and Landsat-5. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss
This is actually my second summer interning here at Goddard. I wanted to apply for this particular project because my mentor from last year was overseeing it, and because I am fascinated by the Earth sciences. This branch of science has so many real-world implications because we are studying phenomena that directly affect people.

What was your first impression of Goddard when you started working here last summer?

I was impressed by how everyone seems eager to share their knowledge with others. The other part that surprised me was how many active clubs and organizations are here on campus. This year some friends and I learned how to salsa dance by taking advantage of the first free session of the Goddard Dance Club. It was a lot of fun, and something I never would have expected to be doing during my internship!

What are your future goals? How do you think this internship will help you to reach them?

I hope to pursue a career in climate research or engineering. This internship has given me excellent experience to build on for the future. Also, anything with the word “NASA” in it looks great on my resume!

What is the most important lesson you have learned?

One of the most important things that I have learned so far is that it is never okay to overlook the small things. In my project, a tiny difference in temperature can mean a huge change in the effects of disease. Every detail counts.

What advice would you give to someone interested in an internship at Goddard?

First, explore to find what you like to do. Make sure that you will be interested in doing what you are applying for. On your application include all the minor skills that you have, like if you have taught yourself a computer language or taken additional classes on your own. Those extra things could make the difference in getting the position.

What is your favorite hobby?

For the past twelve years I have participated heavily in swimming. I joined my first summer team when I was five years old, started doing summer league meets when I was eight, moved to club and high school swimming in my freshman year, and began club meets this past year. My best strokes are breaststroke and freestyle.

What do you like best about swimming?

There are a lot of reasons I like swimming. For one, each swimmer competes individually, but is still part of a team that supports each other and competes together. Also, swimming is usually a low-impact sport. It can even be quite relaxing. Over the years swimming has become something in which I can really thrive and achieve something. Nothing is better than seeing your time drop after months of practice.

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