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Women of SDO - Sarah Macpherson
Sarah Macpherson › View larger
Sarah Macpherson Credit: NASA
Q & A with Sarah

What first sparked your interest in science or engineering?
My dad. He had a lab down in the basement of our house. Every now and then, he’d bring up his projects and work on them on the dining room table. When I got old enough, he let me help him test his circuits. He also had me test his software programs that he used to write because I usually could get the program into a state he wasn’t expecting (I was his beta tester). I was really good at doing that to computer games (that you could buy off the shelf), too, but I couldn’t go to those designers and tell them I broke their game. The most I could do was tell my dad and then he’d try to fix it. His favorite thing that I “broke” was a Rubik’s cube (I took the stickers off and put them in different places). He had to figure out, logically, where the stickers were supposed to be. He really enjoyed that.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I get a great amount of satisfaction from a project/design well done. When I’m in the lab testing a circuit that I design and then when that box or circuit card gets onto a spacecraft and launches. Wow! There’s no feeling like it.
What advice would you give to students who would like to work on a project such as SDO?
You’re probably expecting study hard, especially math and science and major in engineering, but to that, I also add have fun. Every engineer wants to know more about their world and how to work with nature’s forces (even on a microscopic level, like with electrons) to get a design to work the way they want. Find someone who does the kind of thing in which you’re interested and pester them (but not too much). See if they’ll take you under their wing. Take things (that are yours!) apart and modify them. Find something uniquely you that will set you apart from others so you can highlight that when you go to look for a job.
What do you do on an average day?
Depends on what day! Early in the project, I’m gathering information on the different sensors or actuators used on the spacecraft and reading about the project so that I can design something that fits the needs of that mission. Then there’s a design phase where I’m gathering up all my circuits onto a schematic, the manufacturing stage where I’m working with the person who makes our boards and then the testing phase when I’m in the lab verifying the circuits work as designed.
What are the greatest challenges of your job?
Troubleshooting. When something goes wrong, my first instinct is kind of overwhelming: what’s wrong? Why is this not “behaving”? What did I do wrong? Did I break something? Then I realize I designed this circuit, so I can logically figure out what’s wrong. Going through the schematic, I can figure out test points where I can determine the circuit is good up to that point and then move on to the next point.
What is your favorite hobby/activity outside of work?
I’m an avid cyclist. I currently own five bikes and enjoy riding on the weekends, mountain biking, riding with other cyclists during the week in the summer and training/riding with my husband.

About Sarah

Full Name: Sarah Elizabeth Eckert (nee Macpherson)

Position/Title: Electrical Engineer

Hometown (City,State): Medford, NJ


College, Bachelor of Science in Engineering with an emphasis on Electrical

Career Highlights:
  • Designed ground support equipment for the Super Lightweight Instrument Carrier, Hubble, Servicing Mission 4
  • Designed a sensor interface for a Micro-machined Elecro-Mechanical Systems “mini-gyro” with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
  • Designed the Subsystem Data Node (interface between a microprocessor and most of the sensors on the spacecraft and the actuator cards) for the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

What influenced your career choice?

Flying and my dad. My dad is a contractor for the army, but really didn’t think that either of his two daughters would be interested in engineering. Boy was he surprised when his eldest daughter called from college and said she’d changed her major from education to engineering!

I’ve been wanting to fly since I was about knee-high. In college, the flying club was building an aircraft in the basement of one of their buildings, and I thought design and build, an essential piece of engineering, was “cool” and changed my major. From there, I met someone who introduced me to Goddard and fell in love with the place. He helped me schedule interviews two weeks later and within a month of graduation, I was working in the field I love.

Hobbies and Interests:

Flying (past), Cycling, running, athletics.