Dare Mighty Things: My Summer Internship at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

Michelle Electrical, Internship, Michelle, Viterbi Summer, Work 0 Comments

Hi everyone! Hope your summers have been going well!

My summer has been pretty eventful, and it’s only going to get even busier! As soon as I finished my freshman year, I got to go home to relax and recharge for a month. From there, I headed straight back to SoCal to begin my summer internship at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory!


JPL is a research and development center managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for NASA, located in Pasadena, California. Upon my arrival at JPL, I was immediately introduced to my mentor for the next 10 weeks, and sent on my way to get badged and to receive my laptop. They wasted no time in getting me situated and acquainted with the JPL campus!

The first thing I noticed about JPL is that it takes the safety of its employees very seriously. The beginning of my time at JPL consisted of attending safety trainings and taking tests to ensure that I understood the information. This is Before I could do anything in the lab, I had to attend a variety of trainings, from Cryogenics safety training to Electrical safety training. Any employee who will potentially come across a particular hazard in the lab has to take a safety training for that hazard. Need to use a ladder? There’s a safety training for that too!

I’m currently working in the Microdevices Laboratory (MDL), which focuses on studying micro and nano-fabrication techniques. The technology from MDL helps accomplish new missions and take new measurements in space for JPL and NASA. MDL has a wide range of capabilities, such as concept development, material characterization, and fabrication of infrared detectors.

The particular group I am working with focuses on the development of infrared detectors based on semiconductor materials. There is an abundance of information that can be gained from studying objects in the visible light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, but studying these objects in the invisible light section of the electromagnetic spectrum can add more depth. To give an example of a real-world application for the work that our group does, one of the goals highlighted on the MDL webpage is that “members of the United States armed services may one day have the safety benefit of vehicles equipped with infrared technology that will help them safely navigate hazardous conditions hard to see with the naked eye.” The work that MDL does to create these devices have huge implications for the safety and betterment of the future, and it’s incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to be a part of this group!

If you’d like to learn more about the specifics of what the group I work with does or MDL in general, here is the link!


MDL from the outside!

MDL from the outside!

It definitely doesn’t feel like I’m working full-time, especially with so many exciting projects going on! One of my favorite parts about this internship is the weekly tours and seminars for interns and employees. I’ve toured labs all around JPL, such as the Optical Communications Lab and the Mars2020 tour, which provided an overview of the project. In addition, I have gotten the chance to hear lectures from professors from a variety of different universities, such as NYU and University of Michigan. The speakers are always so passionate about their work, and I always walk out having learned something new. It’s been so interesting to hear people come to JPL to talk about amazing things like “An Affordable Human Journey to Mars in the 2030s,” where the group of speakers talked about the possibility of landing humans on Mars as early as 2037. That’s the really amazing thing about working at a place like JPL: nothing is ever too far-fetched or impossible.

Speaking of incredible projects, I’m fortunate enough to be here at JPL when an incredibly exciting event is going on: New Horizons’ Pluto flyby! You may have heard about it on the news or any social media! After 9 years, NASA’s New Horizons flew by Pluto, and this brought about the first close-up images of Pluto! On July 14, everyone was waiting for New Horizons to “phone home,” (send an update that the spacecraft was in good condition) to the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Many JPLers were sitting in Von Karmin Auditorium waiting, and once the status update reached mission control, everyone in the packed auditorium started cheering and clapping. The energy in the room was so contagious, it was impossible not to feel excited about this historic event!

Photo of Pluto taken from NASA's twitter page

Photo of Pluto taken from NASA’s twitter page. Can you see the heart? 🙂

Everyone sitting in the auditorium celebrating!

Everyone sitting in the auditorium cheering!

A fantastic perk that comes with interning at JPL is that housing is not a problem! Since JPL is managed by Caltech, interns have the option of living at Caltech in the dorms, which is what I am doing! It has been so much fun getting to know other interns and students who are doing research over the summer at Caltech and exploring Pasadena! I’ve been having the time of my life this summer, from going to fun social outings such as Universal Studios Hollywood, hiking, and finding tasty new restaurants, to working and learning about the incredible projects that are going on around JPL! I can’t believe the summer is already halfway finished, but I’m looking forward to the rest of my time here.

Can’t wait to see everyone in the Fall back at USC, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask! Fight On!

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