Intern, Deep Impact
What is the coolest thing about the Deep Impact mission?
Just knowing the awesome technology that humans are capable of building, and actually being able to see it take place is incredible. And also the fact that we can send a spacecraft to a comet, blast a crater in it, and unlock so much information about comets and the formation of our solar system. I mean how cool is that?! I thought excavation sites were cool...
Where do you work?
I am a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder but I am working at the University of Maryland Space and Science building, in the Deep Impact section, during the summer. I also work from my home in Bethesda MD.
How are you associated with the Deep Impact mission?
I am working for Dr. Lucy McFadden as a student researcher. I am helping her put material on a web site called Virtual Telescopes in Education (VTIE) vtie.gsfc.nasa.gov, about the Deep Impact mission and general comet information. This will be oriented towards undergraduates who are interested in observing the mission or just are interested in comets. I am also writing my first observing proposal, with the help and advice of Dr. McFadden, which will coincide with the Deep Impact mission.
How did you end up working in space science?
I am an Astronomy and Math major at CU and was looking for research opportunities during the summer. It's funny how I ended up at UMD. I ran track with Whitney McFadden (Lucy's daughter) during high school and was at her house one night. Whitney told me that her mother was an astronomer working at UMD and she was looking for a student to work for her. I contacted her and got the position.
What is your everyday work life like?
Every time I come into work I set up my laptop and get out any books or notes I need. Then I meet with Dr. McFadden to discuss what I have been working on and what needs to get done. Then I set out to do my work and usually stop a couple times to ask Lucy questions. When its time to leave I meet with Lucy again to review what I did and to plan for tomorrows work. Everyday is different than the next and I am always learning something new. Its great and the people that I work with are great!
Are there any barriers to your work?
I would have to say lack of time. Along with this job I coach a dive team and take a physics course at American University. It's very frustrating because you can't really put a time limit on research. You get so into it, and time flies so fast that you can't believe its time to go. It is very hard to stop when you are on a roll.
What do you expect to learn from the Deep Impact mission?
I expect to learn how a mission is set up, carried out, and analyzed. It is thrilling to see the behind scenes of a real mission like this one. I also expect to learn about the composition of a comet. I am really interested in seeing what lies beneath the surface of a comet and whether it can unlock any secrets about the origin of life.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A ventriloquist and an astronaut. I think my parents were rooting for the latter.
Who inspired you?
My father mostly. He bought me a telescope when I was very young. Space itself inspired me as well; I mean how can you look up at the stars and not wonder what is going on up there?
Were you a science-oriented kid?
I am only 20; I still think I am a kid in some ways. But yes, I was obsessed with dinosaurs, rocks and space when I was younger. You should see my room; it has a million glow-in-the-dark stars on the walls and ceiling. I hope my parents never have to sell the house because it will be a pain to get them all down.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, it is still my favorite. Finally, a tale where the fate of the world is placed in a kid's hands. Don't worry, he's a genius. But for those of you who haven't read this wonderful book, it is being turned into a movie over the next few years.
What are your leisure time activities?
In my free time I run and lift weights to train for the CU track team. I also kayak, play soccer and rock climb when I have the chance. When I'm not participating in a sport or working, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. It's great to meet up with close friends at Starbucks between daily activities and come home after a long day to a great dinner with my family. I think those are the only things that keep me sane. Before bed I like to read, mostly science books, but I am working on a book about Gandhi.
Do you have any advice for young scientists?
Get involved young. The more people you meet the more advice you can get which can guide you toward the right path. And never give up. If you don't get an internship right away try again the following year or volunteer at a science-oriented facility, such as a planetarium or observatory. It's good to get experience early on so that you are prepared for more advanced jobs. Read up on your astronomy, new studies and findings are being released at an exponential rate. Magazines such as Astronomy and Discover are like the Washington Post of the science world.