Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering
Bachelor of Science, June 2009
NASA Academy Research Project:
Expulsion from a Cryogenic Tank in Low Gravity
Dr. Greg Zimmerli
I had been a swimmer and a diver for a long time, so when I first got a job, it seemed natural that I start with life guarding. I began working part-time during the summers as a lifeguard at fifteen, doing shifts at a local pool and volunteering at a summer camp for disadvantaged children. The summer before college began, my family moved to Massachusetts from Connecticut. It was difficult to get a job halfway through the summer, but I went on to guard at a nearby athletics club. The job was flexible, and the pay wasn’t bad for a high-school student. But I knew that I needed a job that was not reactive to events, but proactive to them. I didn’t want to sit in a chair waiting for someone to choke or drown; I wanted to build things, design things; figure out the answers to problems.
During my freshman year, I was involved with a learning community for freshmen at MIT called Terrascope. This program presents students with a big, unsolvable world problem that they must come up with solutions for. The second half of the year tasks the students to build a museum exhibit and the class visits a related site during spring break. For me, our year’s problem was the threat of tsunamis on costal regions and islands. I learned a lot about early detection methods using satellites and buoys, and we traveled to Valdivia, Chile, where a major tsunami occurred in 1960. I had such a great experience meeting new people and working on projects outside of a standard engineering curriculum that I stayed involved. In the past two years I have been an advisor to the freshmen, guiding them through the processes of developing solutions and designing exhibits. I have been able to travel to New Orleans and Iceland to study the damage the hurricane caused and the changing fisheries, respectively. These experiences have helped open my eyes to the different viewpoints worldwide.
Following my freshman year at MIT, I worked as an intern at Northrop Grumman Norden Systems in Norwalk, CT, which builds and designs radar products. During that time, I created an in-depth simulation of radar behavior over water, which was used to predict radar performance for government proposals. Beyond just learning about radar, I was getting my first glimpses at the real world of engineering in industry, beyond scientifically-minded problem sets and lectures.
I had a quite different experience the following summer, when I worked for Vehicle Design Summit, a student group trying to design, build, and distribute extremely efficient cars through developing a consortium of students around the world. At many times I had to take action and figure out what needed to be done to make progress, and help others around me do the same. Additionally, the international viewpoint that I got from the group was beyond even the diversity one can feel at MIT; at one point, I was working with two Dutch, a German, an Italian, an Indian, and a Chinese student. Even though everyone wanted to build a car, there were many different varying opinions and worldviews about how exactly that should be done and what was most important in that process. Figuring out even how to move planning or designs forward could be a challenge, but was very rewarding when accomplished.
One extracurricular that I devote significant amounts of time to is the Varsity Diving team at MIT. I began diving when I was eight or nine years old, competitively diving at eleven, and have continued since then. The sport is as much a mental exercise as a physical one, as diving from high and higher platforms and executing more advanced dives requires no small amount of courage. However, the feeling of soaring into the air and cleanly entering the water is exhilarating. I also enjoy skiing and sailing and generally being outside when I can. I enjoy reading, and making music and art, all of which I have been able to do less often than I’d like while at school.
Outlook and Goals
Most of all, I enjoy thinking creatively, which can apply to technical fields as well as artistic ones. I think everyone wants to make their own unique mark on the world in which they live. I want the topics or projects that I work on in the future to have far-reaching effects that can benefit the world, or as NASA’s and others’ cases might be, the universe around us. With the conclusion of my junior year at MIT, I am in the midst of designing with my classmates an orbital transfer vehicle to bring a small payload to the moon. With an aggressive schedule, student labor, and a tight budget, we have had to think of new ways to do things, things that have never been tried before in space or under particular circumstances. I find the project incredibly exciting because we are ventured into space, physically and in terms of design spaces, to which university undergraduate teams have never crossed into to before. The next year will bring unforeseen challenges and new problems to solve, and I look forward to stepping up to meet them head-on.
I hope to gain valuable insight into working in the aerospace world this summer at the Academy, and eventually pursue graduate school, possibly in controls design. Afterwards I hope to work in the aerospace sector. However, seen and as-of-yet unseen paths will arise, as they always do, and I look forward to walking one of them when the time is right.