Two Gustavus Students Spend Summer at NASA Airborne Science Program

Posted on July 18th, 2011 by

Brandon Furey '12 aboard NASA's DC-8 aircraft.

Summer internships give Gustavus students a chance to apply their knowledge in real world environments, while developing skills which will help them perform well in their careers after their four years on the hill.

Gusties are immersed in internships all around the country this summer, including seniors Nick Atkins and Brandon Furey who are in the middle of a unique six-week experience as part of NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program.

Atkins and Furey are two of 29 undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States who are participating in the program which is designed to allow students majoring in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering to participate in all aspects of a NASA airborne research campaign.

The program is one of NASA’s tools for training future scientists for earth science missions that support environmental studies and the testing and development of new instruments and future satellite mission concepts.

Participants fly aboard NASA’s DC-8 aircraft, assisting in the operation of instruments on board the aircraft to sample atmospheric gases, image land and water surfaces, and take measurements at field sites.

The program began June 19 at the University of California, Irvine, with lectures by university faculty members, NASA scientists, and NASA program managers.

Aboard the DC-8 flying laboratory, which is based at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., students in the program are given a rare behind-the-scenes look at the instrument integration, flight planning, and payload testing that is the basis of every successful earth science airborne campaign carried out by NASA.

Nick Atkins '12

Some of the projects the interns are involved in include traveling north aboard the DC-8 over almond and pistachio orchards, vineyards and dairies in the San Joaquin Valley at altitudes as low as 1,000 feet above the ground, flying over the Santa Barbara Channel to study giant kelp beds, and flying over water treatment plants in the Los Angeles Basin to study air pollution.

Both Atkins and Furey credit Gustavus and more specifically the College’s Physics Department for preparing them for such an intense and challenging summer experience.

“My education at Gustavus, especially through the Physics Department, taught me all of the skills that I needed for this internship,” Furey said. “While I haven’t used some of the computer programs before and have never studied earth science, my problem solving skills and mathematical way of thinking let me jump right in.”

“My time at Gustavus has helped me prepare for this experience,” Atkins said. “Being in the physics program at Gustavus has challenged me and forced me to be a critical problem solver, something which naturally comes in handy when creating your own project and confronting many roadblocks along the way. The active involvement on campus that Gustavus prides itself in has also aided me in this internship, helping teach teamwork and the art of successful cooperation.”

Atkins’ personal research project is dealing with the Hydrocarbon seeps in the Santa Barabara Channel. By using NASA technology, he is attempting to both qualitatively and quantitatively locate and analyze the location of Hydrocarborn seeps in the channel. He is tying that research together with high frequency radar information from the UC-Santa Barbara Ocean Current Mapping Project to see if he can model the path of the Hydrocarbons using sea current data.

Furey is working with the land group analyzing almond and pistachio orchards to aid farmers in their irrigation efforts. Aboard the DC-8, Furey and others collected hyperspectral image data of the orchards, which they will use to compare two different models for calculating evapotranspiration.

Both Atkins and Furey say that this summer’s internship will help them immensely in their careers down the road.

“After I graduate from Gustavus, I plan to pursue a doctorate in aerospace engineering or applied physics,” Furey said. “This internship also has me considering earth system science.”

“This internship has both helped define my interests as well as enlighten me as to how much more NASA does than just launch people into space,” Atkins said. “At the same time it has thrown my ideal dream job as an aerospace engineer into uncertainty, as earth science is an interesting and dynamic field that I could easily see myself involved with as a career.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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