National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Harkirat K. Sohi

Harkirat K. Sohi

University of Washington
Seattle, WA
M.S. in Applied Mathematics, Dec 2009
B.S. in Applied and Computational and Mathematical Sciences, and B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Dec 2008

NASA Academy Research Project:
Validation of the Software Backbone of the NASA Digital Astronaut Project

Principal Investigator:
Beth Lewandowski


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

The above quote embodies my view towards life. I wake up each morning, in anticipation of doing something I have never done before, exploring something new and living every day to its fullest. I think every “today” should be lived so that it becomes a hope for “tomorrow” and can be remembered as a memorable “yesterday.” And in three words, that is what life is all about: “yesterday”, “today” and “tomorrow.” Yesterday becomes our reason for looking forward to today and we live today in hopes of a promising tomorrow. And no tomorrow will be like today, which is why I believe in taking from every day all I can. It is to “Explore. Dream. Discover” that I look forward to challenging myself to new, demanding and “out of the box” situations so that I can continue to learn something new and grow as a person, both intellectually and socially.

When I think of NASA, I think of my dreams, my passion to explore and a hope of leaving my mark in science, no matter how small it may be. In a speech in 1962, John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. . .” I believe that one’s true potential comes out in entirety when he/she is challenged to the next level. By attending the NASA Academy, I may not actually be going to the moon (who knows I might?) but I hope to accomplish something as exciting as that.

Although my studies so far have been focused on the math and sciences and my career will be as well, my scope has not been limited to just math and science. To me, it is very important to balance my work load with extra-curricular activities and culturally enlightening experiences. I have led an Indian dance group on my college campus and organized a series of Bollywood movie nights on campus. I am also involved with Seattle Women’s Field Hockey and volunteering at local K-2 classrooms. I love to travel, meet people from diverse backgrounds, learn about their cultures and share mine with them.

Academics/Research Experience/Goals

I got involved with research at the University of Washington through a summer program (UW GenOM) during the summer (June 2004) before my freshman year. My research project was to evolve proteins called homing endonucleases so that they could cleave the DNA that is responsible for making tuberculosis resistant to antibiotics. I continued working on this project during my freshman year.

During my sophomore year, I began volunteering at the University of Washington (UW) Autism Center. I also participated in the UW Pre-Major in Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP) and worked in an Astronomy lab, where I analyzed RR Lyrae stars data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) using Supermongo, a plotting and analysis package.

By the end of my sophomore year, I started working in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Division of Medical Genetics at UW where my project was to utilize bacterial homologous recombination to create deletions in the human MAPT gene and in the human PKCγ gene for identification of its regulatory elements. At the end of my junior year, I left to study abroad in Australia for a semester at the University of Western Australia, where I also got the wonderful opportunity to get involved with research. My project at the University of Western Australia was to use a Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) PCR test to identify hairy marrons (Cherax ternuimanus) from the Margaret River in southwestern Australia.

I must say the semester I spent abroad in Australia was definitely the highlight of my undergraduate education. After returning from Australia, I worked in an Applied Mathematics lab where I programmed in MATLAB to develop and optimize novel methods for approximating the surface area and volume of gliomas, a type of brain tumor. Then came perhaps the most exciting news: I had been accepted into the NASA Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) for Fall 2008. My project focused on optimizing growth parameters for salt-tolerant plants in order to obtain aviation fuel from them. It was a crucial experience that introduced me to the research environment at NASA. After the completion of the NASA USRP internship, I graduated in Fall 2008 with dual degrees in Applied & Computational Mathematical Sciences (ACMS) and Biology. In Jan 2009, I began my Masters degree in Applied Mathematics at the University of Washington.

My goal has been to work at NASA towards a research project that would allow me to use my skills in Applied Mathematics and Biology, in anticipation of doing more extensive work on the project after the end of the internship and finding a dissertation project either for my Masters or PhD in Applied Mathematics. I hope the NASA Academy will only bolster my goals and make them even more exciting and adventurous. Whether I do a research project for my Masters or PhD or get a job after graduation or who knows even become an astronaut, I know I would love to work for NASA!