Spotlight on Students: Valerie Shao
During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I interned at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. My research focused on engineering an alternative combustion process within the turbojet engine that would lead to faster and more efficient ignition. My main responsibility for this project involved analyzing past research on plasma assisted combustion as well as the potential implementation of other enhancements such as ozone. This consisted of reading numerous scientific papers and drawing from them the inefficiencies and drawbacks of most solutions and proposing a possible solution.
During my time at the Glenn Research Center, I also had the opportunity to tour the center and visit the Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. On my tours of Glenn, I was able to see and hear about the various projects that are currently being worked on at the center. One of the more memorable research works that I heard about involved growing different types of algae for biofuels and researching its efficiency. I even got to play with Garra Rufa fish, a species of fish that eat dead skin, on that tour! At the Plum Brook Station, I visited the Space Power Facility and many of the other testing set-ups. The specific facility I mentioned was not only featured in the Avengers movie, but it also homes the world's largest space environment simulation chamber, which has been used to test various parts of rockets as well as the Mars lander!
Through this internship experience, I was challenged in many ways. I was responsible for performing a lot of research independently, and I dealt with a lot of concepts that I had never encountered through my coursework. In addition, for the first time, I was bound to a desk-job from 9-5! However, it was also through this experience that I gained a lot of knowledge that expanded beyond my major as an environmental engineer. I learned a lot about the inner workings of jet engines, primarily the combustion process, as well as car engines, and I developed a number of skills required as a researcher. I also came to see the importance of my major in all fields of work. For instance, through researching innovative ways to improve the combustion process in jet engines, it was easy to pinpoint the concept that new technologies or current practices always have some impact (no matter how small) on the environment. Because of this, it is extremely important to study the process - from development to discarding - as a whole.