Education

Senior Year Can Wait -- I'm Working at JPL!
07.26.10
 
JPL high school intern Jessica LiangHigh school intern Jessica Liang dons 3D glasses to look at some Mars images in her cubicle at JPL. Image credit: NASA/JPL by Jessica Liang

Imagine you're at school, munching on a cheeseburger during lunch, just chatting with your friends about how awesome it is that NASA is sending a rover to Mars. Now imagine eating a cheeseburger again, except you're now talking to some of the top-notch scientists and engineers in the world who are actually working on the rover. This is just one of the many opportunities a high school intern can experience at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

So far, my eight-week internship here at JPL has been amazing. I became a summer intern through the INSPIRE program (Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience), a nationwide program across 10 NASA centers. The program gives incoming high school seniors the opportunity to spend the summer working in a professional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) environment. At my high school, I am involved in the physics team, Science Bowl, Ocean Science Bowl, astronomy club and physics club. Clearly, I love science and I am thinking about majoring in engineering or computer science. I would say the most important prerequisite for a JPL internship is a strong interest in and passion for science, technology, engineering or math.

This summer, I am working with the Mars Public Engagement team. One of my main projects is to create a virtual tour of the possible landing sites of the Curiosity rover that will launch in late 2011. This opportunity is really cool because I get to chat with a Mars scientist and learn about all the landing sites. Several of my other projects involve designing and adding more features to Mars websites using HTML, CSS, Photoshop, Illustrator and other software programs. I've also contributed posts about the Curiosity rover for Facebook and Twitter, in addition to writing spotlights about Curiosity that go on NASA's Mars Exploration Program website and on the JPL Mars homepage. It's really cool seeing my work on official NASA/JPL websites! One of the other interns in my program is working hands-on in building an environmental control system for Curiosity, while another is working with databases and algorithms, and another is working with coding and software for robots.

While the INSPIRE program is common to all NASA centers, SpaceSHIP is a high school internship program that is specific to JPL. Students need to live within 50 miles of the lab, but in general, the high school students do similar work. Space Grant is another NASA program that accepts high school students.

What I like a lot about JPL is the work environment. It's professional yet laid back. Workplace doors are decorated with witty science jokes, scientists and engineers laugh and joke in the cafeteria, employees will ask you about your day in the elevator and everyone is invited to listen to lectures by renowned scientists. It kind of reminds me of a college campus, but much better! It's a place where ideas, even those of a high school intern, are heard, and creativity is allowed to bloom. The workplace is not intimidating, and I feel very comfortable here despite being just 17 years old. I am not treated as a high school student but as a contributing member of the team. While some of my friends are filing papers or running errands at other internships, I get to do what I like here at JPL in an experience of a lifetime!

For more information about internship opportunities at JPL, go to http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/internships/ .


Computer Science Connects Real and Virtual Space

JPL intern Heriberto Reynoso and NASA/JPL robotics software engineer Matt DiCicco
JPL intern Heriberto Reynoso and NASA/JPL robotics software engineer Matt DiCicco review Reynoso's software project for a possible moon lander mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL

07.14.10 -- Heriberto Reynoso's summer internship is taking him one step closer to the moon. Reynoso is working with the Mobility and Manipulation group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to build software that will help engineers on a proposed mission called MoonRise. The mission would be the first U.S. and NASA robotic mission to return lunar samples to Earth.

Reynoso is one of nearly 50 JPL summer interns who are computer science majors. His project is to develop a graphical user interface, or GUI, that engineers can use on a hand"held touch screen to easily manipulate the proposed lunar lander's robotic arm.

For Reynoso, who will start his senior year this fall at the University of Texas, Brownsville, the combination of software and robotics goes to the heart of what he loves. "Robotics jump-starts my mind," he says. "I've built nine robots since my sophomore year in high school. I like it because it combines all fields: computer science, chemistry, materials, mechanical and electrical engineering."

The highlight of Reynoso's internship will come in August. He and his mentor, NASA/JPL robotics software engineer Matt DiCicco, will use Reynoso's interface on a prototype robotic arm at JPL. The MoonRise mission, if it moves forward, would send a robotic lander to the moon's South Pole-Aitken basin, which is the oldest and deepest observable basin on the moon. The mission would return samples to Earth that would help determine the chronology of impacts recorded in the rocks. The samples would also indicate the variations in composition of materials in the basin deposits.

Reynoso's software expertise will also be used to help prepare for a possible future rover mission to Mars. He will work in JPL's Mars Yard to help test software and hardware on a prototype Mars rover before it gets field"tested in the fall.

By applying computer science to robotic missions like MoonRise and Mars rovers, Reynoso is going in the direction he wants his career to take him: "When I was a kid, I was very creative with LEGOs. Then I started taking apart old household appliances to create neat gadgets. Later, I converted my parents' garage into my very own robotics workshop! Of course, my parents did not take it lightly, nor did they ever admit that they loved staying up late into the night helping me out on crazy projects."

Computer science offers many avenues in the field of space exploration. According to JPL's Mark Maimone, who has a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, "JPL computer scientists do lots of things. We build robots, design all kinds of systems with automated or manual control and manage the huge amounts of data they generate. Tools like the GUI Heriberto is working on help us visualize remote operations. This is especially important because they allow us to understand complex robotic operations at a glance. The more quickly we understand, the more we can accomplish." Maimone developed the flight software that enables NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers and the Mars Science Laboratory (currently being built at JPL) to drive safely even in the presence of unforeseen obstacles.

In addition to attending college and fulfilling his dream job at JPL, Reynoso gives his time to community service. Last year, he showcased his robots and inspired students across south Texas in 22 different schools and events. Reynoso never had a mentor so he loves mentoring students for competitions and projects. "I learned it the hard way," he says. "I've experienced countless failures but through determination, ambitious dreams and passion, even the impossible seems possible."

Reynoso successfully applied to NASA's Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology program, or MUST, last summer and this summer for his JPL internships. He plans to return next year to JPL to continue working in computer science and robotics. After college, Reynoso plans to focus on robotics for graduate school and his Ph.D.

For more information about internship opportunities at JPL, go to http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/internships/ .


JPL Summer Interns Meet the Mentors

NASA/JPL engineer Robert Hogg shows intern Alexander Kern the engineering model for the Mars Science Laboratory in JPL's In-Situ Instrument Lab.
NASA/JPL engineer Robert Hogg shows intern Alexander Kern the engineering model for the Mars Science Laboratory in JPL's In-Situ Instrument Lab. Image credit: NASA/JPL
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06.25.10 -- The mentors at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are as diverse as the disciplines required for space exploration. This summer, more than 200 JPL scientists and engineers are paired with roughly 350 students and visiting faculty. The common key ingredient in mentors is that they want to give guidance to those interested in pursuing science and engineering careers.

"As a mentor," says planetary geologist Deborah Bass, "we try to introduce students to different experiences in research and in a work environment. For some, we help them understand what working at a full-time job is like, including setting goals and responding to a 'boss.' For others, it is endeavoring to produce a manuscript or conference paper that can be published. Mostly, we want to provide a positive experience and allow them to learn a new skill, learn something about JPL and something about themselves."

Bass works on long-term strategic science planning for the Mars Program and has been a science team member for the Mars Exploration Rovers and the Deputy Project Scientist for the Phoenix Mars Lander. She and Charles Budney, a scientist who works on Mars mission concepts, are co-mentors this summer to two undergraduates, one high school teacher and one visiting university faculty member. Each of their "students" is conducting research about Mars.

Interns Anne Marinan and Emily Mullis, NASA/JPL scientists Charles Budney and Deborah Bass and visiting university faculty member Pam Dowling.
Image above, from left to right: Interns Anne Marinan and Emily Mullis, NASA/JPL scientists Charles Budney and Deborah Bass and visiting university faculty member Pam Dowling. Image credit: NASA/JPL

While Bass and Budney focus on science aspects of space exploration, robotics engineer Robert Hogg builds robots. Hogg is working on the motor controls for the Mars Science Laboratory, which is the next rover going to Mars. The mission is scheduled to launch in late 2011. Before working on the largest rover NASA has built for Mars, Hogg worked on urban and micro robots. This summer, he is mentoring a Los Angeles-area high school student.

"My job as a mentor is to give students a good feel for all of the different aspects of engineering in practice," explains Hogg. "I also want to broaden their view of what they themselves can create and achieve now and in the future!"

While Hogg and other mentors want to share their knowledge, they also want students to contribute. "When students are brought up to speed," Hogg notes, "they contribute significantly to the area they are working in, and so my work benefits as well - they do contribute to fulfilling NASA and JPL's mission."

Often depending on a student's academic level, mentors may be very hands on and work closely with a student. In other cases, mentors are less frequently involved in day-to-day activities but always have an open door for the intern.

Bass and Hogg, along with many other mentors, were once NASA or JPL interns and have a desire to give back. "I want to keep up a strong 'pipeline' of young scientists and engineers," Bass explains. "I believe one of my responsibilities as a more-senior scientist is to provide opportunities and coaching to those aspiring towards their own futures."

It's also just plain fun to share the thrill of exploration. "When students get a chance to work on a piece of one of these projects at JPL, they can see that what they are learning is contributing to new exploration that has never been done before," says Hogg. "I think that is something that can't be experienced anywhere else."

For more information about NASA, JPL and Caltech internships at JPL, go to http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/internships/ . You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NASAJPLStudents .


JPL Welcomes 2010 Summer Interns

JPL interns arrive at the lab
Summer interns arrive at JPL. Image credit: NASA/JPL

06.18.10 -- They come from Alaska, Florida, California and almost everywhere in between. Almost 280 undergraduate students started their summer internships on Wed., June 16, 2010, making up most of the 350 students and faculty who will be at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the summer. Every summer, JPL hosts students and faculty who work on research projects as varied as their schools and academic interests.

Day one as an intern includes a visit to JPL's Visitor Center, a welcome from JPL Director Charles Elachi and several presentations on program requirements, safety regulations, computer security concerns and ethical standards. Finally, the students are met by their mentors -- JPL scientists and engineers who will provide guidance during their stay.

Over roughly 10 weeks, the interns will complete research projects related to space and Earth sciences. Some will work with teams building the next Mars rover, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, while others will work with scientists who study changes in Earth's climate. At the end of their stay, students will present their findings to a panel of JPL engineers, scientists, educators and peers.

JPL and NASA offer a wide range of internship opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students. There are also some opportunities for high school students and faculty.

For a full list of academic opportunities at JPL, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/internships/ .


Minority Education Summer Students Arrive at JPL

Minority Education interns at JPL
Minority students at JPL. Image credit: NASA/JPL

06.14.10 -- Thirty-three students kicked off their summer internships with JPL's Minority Education Office on June 14, 2010. Students in the group hail from Puerto Rico, Hawaii and many U.S. states in between.

The new undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral students are participating in programs that promote science, technology, math and engineering to groups that have traditionally been underrepresented or underserved in these academic fields.

Several students successfully competed for scholarships with the Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology program, a partnership between NASA, the United Negro College Fund and the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers. These students are awarded internships at a NASA center of their choosing and receive scholarships for part of their college education.

Information about all of JPL's Minority Programs can be found at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/minorityinitiatives/ .