National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Michelle Nadeau

American University

Washington, D.C.Michelle Nadeau

Bachelor of Science in Physic, May 2012

NASA Academy Research Project:

Conceptual Design for Space Missions

Principal Investigator:

Dr. Geoffrey Landis


Sedona, AZ


Personal Statement

My obsession with the skies started when I was five or so. One night I was looking through a telescope at the full moon and my dad told me that not only was that silver disk really a sphere but so was the Earth. It totally blew my young mind. I had thought I was on a flat plane looking up at another flat object. Since then I have been intrigued by the clash between observed phenomena and scientific explanations.

In addition, I always enjoy a good challenge. In the classroom, the subject material is divided and isolated by courses and semesters, but research draws all that knowledge together. It is a wonderful challenge to keep all those threads in mind and to consider how these normally disparate subjects interweave.

Education/Work Experience

I graduated from Norwell High School in 2008 and went on to American University. I will graduate in the spring of 2012 with a BS in Physics and a Spanish Translation Certificate. I also work part time within the physics department, with previous jobs such as Supplemental Instruction leader, laboratory teaching assistant and lab equipment organizer.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I researched optical communications at Boston University through a REU in photonics. The project combined general lighting for a business workspace with a high security communications network. The light source was light emitting diodes that rapidly blinked off and on to transmit data in binary code to a receiver plugged into a laptop computer. The diodes blink so fast that the eyes perceive the light as always on.

Between my sophomore and junior years, I researched quantum optics at the National Institute of Standards and Technology as part of their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. I wrote a LabVIEW program to collect data from a powermeter and an ammeter to calibrate a superconducting transition-edge sensor (TES), which we ultimately found to be over 97% efficient at detecting and counting just a handful of photons. To put this in perspective, a standard light bulb emits millions of photons every second. Quantum computers—the future of computing—will have very secure transactions because a third party cannot read the data encrypted into a single photon without disturbing the system and alerting the sender and receiver to the intrusion. Those receivers will be similar to our TES photon detector so that they can detect the very few photons being transmitted.

Extracurricular Activities

I lived and breathed FIRST Robotics Competition in high school. Now that I am in college, I volunteer at regional competitions over my spring breaks. I plan to be a team mentor, too, when I can find the time to make a difference. I am also very actively involved in my university’s Women in Science student group, helping to organize monthly meetings, alumni panels, science field trips, and fundraisers.

In my free time, I enjoy reading science fiction, blues dancing and cooking.

Career Objectives

After I graduate next year, I will serve five years in the Navy under their nuclear engineering officer program. My dream job is to work on nuclear-powered spacecraft so I can combine my passions for astrophysics and nuclear engineering.