By Randall Brown
Katie Davis, a junior in chemical engineering, realized part of a life-long dream with her spring 2022 internship at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
“NASA’s mission has always been close to my heart,” said Davis. “I spent fifth grade to freshman year of high school going to school in Houston, right outside of Johnson Space Center. I swear, I have every exhibit in the Space Center Houston memorized and I have always joked around with my dad about being an astronaut.”
She diligently keeps up with news and info from the office of Engineering Professional Practice and with Women in Engineering via the Alpha Omega Epsilon STEM sorority, so she was well-connected to learn about an information session with a Pathways representative from Johnson Space Center.
“I didn’t even know NASA did internships,” said Davis. “12-year-old Katie would be absolutely losing her mind if I told her what we’re doing right now. I thought my hopes were high before, but now I’m really shooting for the stars. All of a sudden, my naïve dream of being an astronaut isn’t looking so crazy anymore.”
She was impressed with the independence she was given as an intern and takes to heart the value of the experience.
“My team trusts me to complete my tasks and work on my projects efficiently and to the best of my ability,” said Davis. “The most important lesson this internship has taught me so far is to take the extra initiative to seek out my passions. Our dreams are so close, all we have to do is take that small step and see what happens.”
At a Glance
A quick preface about my group:
I am a member of the Materials Testing, Chemistry and Contamination Control branch. I specifically work with the Ionic Liquids team. While The ionic liquids team has many projects, I am mainly supporting is the Macrofluidic Electrochemical Reactor, where we are working to improve the current process of recycling the air on the ISS and other manned missions.
Around 7:30 a.m.
I start the day on base by checking my email and reviewing what I worked on the day before. I am working on multiple projects so it’s important that I keep track of my progress on different tasks. After I have compiled a to-do list for the day, I run my schedule by my mentor and see if there are any other tasks for me that day.
These are prime lab hours, as everyone in the building is usually on-site by now. You would think as an intern I would be stuck on dish duty, but that is quite the contrary. I am trusted to complete what is assigned to me and to ask questions when I don’t know something. My lab is filled with all types of chemistry machines and tools I have never seen, even after spending two years in a lab at UT. If I haven’t asked at least 10 questions by the time I’m done with my lab work, I’m not done.
I am returning to my lab work at this time. If I prepared samples in the morning, I’ll run experiments around this time. If I ran experiments in the morning, I begin to review and analyze the data I gathered about this time. These couple hours are more flexible and what I do depends on progress I’ve made earlier in the day.
Twice a week, I also go into one of the high bays on site and work on the reactor itself. Here, I work to calibrate a residual gas analyzer for the separations system that will filter the gas produced from the Microfluidic Electrochemical Reactor.
By now I am back home and finish out my day by going through my to do list and checking off what I completed. I put whatever tasks I didn’t complete at the top of my list for tomorrow! If I have an extra 30 minutes or so I work on some trainings in the NASA system, currently I am working on a lecture series about the Earth, Moon, and Mars. My days always end with a sense of amazement. I still haven’t processed that I get to be amongst the most dedicated explorers, pioneers, innovators in the USA every day. I am honored each and every day to be a servant of the American people.
On a special day, I might even be touring another lab on-site. Marshall is such a large base and has so much amazing science happening all over. Everyone I meet is dedicated to helping the interns learn as much as possible.