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Center Snapshot: Shaquia Idlett
Center Snapshot: Shaquia Idlett. Image above: Shaquia Idlett, an engineering co-op student at NASA's Langley Research Center, was selected as one of 25 students to be awarded the 2012 NASA Aeronautics Scholarship. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Denise Lineberry

In Shaquia Idlett's perfect world, she wouldn't have to fly, but she would have a profound impact on improving flight for others. Not flying is the easy part. She'll avoid it when she can. The rest will come with come with time and determination.

She envisions biofeedback flight instruments and human brainwaves working together to safely control a plane. She imagines a pilot's eye focused for weapons targeting. She believes in the a future for "flying cars." And as an engineering co-op at NASA's Langley Research Center, she is already helping researchers to develop methods that can control pilot error.

She is well on her way to realizing those ideas since becoming one of 25 students to receive the 2012 NASA Aeronautics Scholarship, which is sponsored by the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate to attract highly motivated undergraduate students to aeronautics and related fields.

That scholarship will piggyback on the partial academic scholarship she received from Mississippi State University as an incoming freshman. Idlett is now a second-year biomedical engineering student.

Her time at NASA Langley allows her education to continue in the work she loves. And it allows her to return to her hometown to be with her family.

Idlett first came to NASA Langley as a high school senior who was participating in the "Stay in School" program. Originally, she thought she wanted to major in biology, but her time at Langley nurtured her interest in engineering.

As a co-op student, she takes college courses at Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) part-time, and she works part-time in Langley's Test Technologies Branch. There, new ideas were exposed.

Idlett works to improve a Langley-developed program that determines a person's emotional state by the increase or decrease of the heart rate from the initial relaxed state using color changing LEDs (light-emitting diodes).

"My goal is to add more components of physiological signals and use them to create emotional specificity," Idlett said. "The current systems only attempts to determine positive and negative emotion."

Idlett merges biomedical engineering with aeronautics and seeks out ways to integrate humans and machines.

"The purpose of the project is to create a notification system for pilots in order for them to become aware of their emotional state so they can respectively make changes to reduce the likelihood of pilot error," she said. "With more research and refinement, this could be a system added to airplanes for pilot error reduction."

She believes that eliminating pilot error could open up possibilities for personal and independent flight, and she looks forward to designing and creating her own systems one day.

"The possibilities are endless," Idlett said. "There are many scientists and physiologists involved in the research of the body's signals and the processing and manipulation of those signals.

"There may be a time where many physical controls are no longer needed because airplane operations could be determined by brain waves."

Idlett hopes to be there, with her head in the clouds and her feet on the ground.

In August, she'll return to Mississippi State University to continue her education. And when it's time for her career to take off, she expects that flight to be an adventure which gets others safely in the air.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman