At work within one of the many labs scattered about the campus of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, mechanical engineering intern Sloan Zimmerman (Harvard Class of 2013) prepares a test setup for components for the next generation of space-faring vehicles and satellites. Currently in her third year of work at NASA, Sloan is part of the agency’s iLIDS, or International Low Impact Docking Seals team, under the mentorship of Christopher C. Daniels.
The NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, one of ten major NASA facilities across the nation, is located adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, at the convergence of the cities of Cleveland, Brook Park and Fairview Park, Ohio. Headed by Director Ray Lugo III, NASA Glenn has as its primary mission the development of science and technology for implementation in space travel and exploration and in earth-bound aeronautics. The sprawling research, application and testing facility is staffed by over 1500 NASA employees and an even greater number of affiliated contractors.
At NASA Glenn’s central campus resides the Zero Gravity Research Facility, the largest microgravity test facility in the world. NASA Glenn also includes Plum Brook Station, a 6,400-acre facility near the city of Sandusky. That vast complex is home not only to the Spacecraft Propulsion Facility, the world’s largest and most sophisticated test facility for rocket engines and full-size launch vehicles, but also a hypersonic wind tunnel, and the world’s largest simulation chamber for deep space environments.
Education of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students has long been one of NASA’s key missions. Such education at NASA Glenn takes the form of the Lewis’ Educational and Research Collaborative Internship Program (LERCIP). The Program is administered by the Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI), one of the nation’s oldest non-profit organizations linking government, industry and universities — in this case for the specific advancement of Ohio’s aerospace economy through research, education and collaborative effort. OAI is affiliated with NASA Glenn, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and various Ohio universities, via the Ohio Board of Regents. Thus far, OAI has linked with more than 100 like-minded partners, and has overseen over 250 federal awards totaling several hundreds of millions of dollars.
LERCIP is open to all U.S. citizens of at least 16 years in age permanently residing in Northeast Ohio. Applicants must maintain good standing and a relatively high grade point average at college or a local high school, and must follow a rigorous application and interview process. The number of applicants accepted each year (typically for a full-time paid 10-week summer internship) varies with fluctuations of NASA funding, the applicant pool, and the match between particular student interests and skills and the needs of NASA project teams. In testament to the value and appeal of LERCIP, many previous interns return to NASA Glenn in successive years, and some continue to rise throughout the space agency’s ranks. (NASA Glenn’s current director, Ray Lugo III, began his career with NASA over 35 years ago as a student intern.)
Sloan Zimerman preceded her years at NASA with two summers of nanotechnology research and development at Dr. Chris Zorman’s Microfabrication Lab at Case Western Reserve University, plus an additional summer of cancer drug protocol development at The Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Center under Dr. Vinod Labhasetwar. Her pursuit of a Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science concentration at Harvard made NASA Glenn a perfect career fit. She enjoys working on actual prototypes in development for our near-future needs in aerospace, and hopes some day to head her own research and development facility. NASA Glenn has certainly provided her with a solid boost into space.