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NASA Provides 'Real Life' Work Experience for Physics Student at USciences

By Lauren Whetzel-Siburkis

logoIt’s not every day an undergraduate student lands their dream job…as a student. But that’s how it worked out for University of the Sciences physics student Jennifer Roberts PHYS’15, who has spent the past several months working with a team of scientists and engineers at NASA to design a device for the currently-in-progress James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

“The JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope; and, by far, my favorite thing that NASA is working on,” said Roberts, a native of Wilmington, Del. “When I found out I was going to get to work even tangentially on it, I was unbelievably excited.”

student award presentationSoon after submitting her summer internship application last spring, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland offered Roberts an internship in electrical engineering, with a special focus on astrophysics. Her primary duty as an intern was to study the cold-to-warm electromagnetic interference characterization of the Near InfraRed Spectrograph, one of the science instruments on the JWST.

She spent the summer deep-rooted in NASA’s electromagnetic interference lab, learning how to use the various pieces of scientific and space equipment. Roberts also had the opportunity to conduct several short-term experiments, run a demonstration at a NASA conference, and get involved in a bunch of different hands-on projects that all pertained to the overall development of the JWST.

At the time Roberts’ internship was scheduled to conclude, NASA’s Electrical Systems Branch opted to keep her on staff as a semi-permanent, part-time contractor. That mean’s Roberts continues to travel to Maryland one day each week to work on electrical engineering experiments, scientific graphs, and demonstrations for NASA.

“Although my initial duties at NASA pertained to the JWST, most of my work lately has been more general than that, and I’m having the opportunity to dabble in a bunch of different projects for NASA,” said Roberts.

This JWST is planned to launch in October 2018, and its mission lifetime after launch will be between 5½ to 10 years. The lifetime is limited by the amount of fuel used for maintaining the orbit, and by the testing and redundancy that ensures that everything on the spacecraft will work.

Roberts was also one of 16 summer interns at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland who was recently awarded the John Mather Nobel Scholarship by The National Space Grant Foundation, Inc. All awardees were given a $3,000 scientific travel grant over a two year period. The funding for the scholarships originated in a contribution from the John and Jane Mather Foundation for Science and the Arts, which in turn was funded from the award of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics to John Mather.

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