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An Insider Glipse of a NASA SEES Internship. Guest Scienst Blog by Faguni G., 2020 NASA SEES Intern

Hello! My name is Faguni and I am a rising senior from San Jose, California. Over the summer, I participated in the NASA STEM Enhancement in Earth Science Internship program and was a part of the Mosquito Mapper Team.  What was originally supposed to be a two-week program at UT-Austin and the Johnson Space Center, turned into an eight-week virtual internship, all from the comforts of our bedroom! Despite the mild hiccup, our mentors worked hard to create and deliver an unforgettable experience that immersed us into the life of a NASA researcher and scientist.

 Our program began the first week of June with an introductory webinar that outlined the expectations and outcomes for the next eight weeks. The premise of our Mosquito Mapper team was to study vector-borne diseases and the environmental factors that affect the behaviors of those vectors, specifically mosquitoes. We would begin with a webinar every Wednesday morning, with either our mentors or a guest scientist teaching us about analyzing satellite data, mapping our own collected data, and other current mosquito vector research. In addition to these weekly webinars, interns would be given around 3-5 assignments each week to complete individually. Our assignments entailed reading research papers on mosquito analysis and then posting our reflections about it on a shared platform with other interns, building our own mosquitoes traps and identifying mosquito larval specimens using a clip-on microscope for our mobile phones (courtesy of NASA). We used the GLOBE Observer app to make land cover observations and identify potential mosquito-breeding grounds. We analyzed satellite images  corresponding to our field observation through tools that were introduced in our bi-weekly Meet-Up and Do Science Zoom Meetings. And, we were required to record the number of hours we worked each week in a form. I must admit, this might have been the most stressful assignment we had to date.

Each task offered the opportunity to develop and refine my skills as a researcher, as a critical thinker, and as a scientist. While I did truly enjoy all the assignments for what they offered, I definitely had a favorite one--don’t tell the others!-- I looked forward to completing the literature readings every week and then posting our reflections on a shared platform with the other interns called Blackboard. I found these assignments to be one of my favorites as it allowed me to learn about other scientists’ research as well as share my own thoughts on the work and learn from others’ perspectives. Because a lot of the work we did as interns was individual and self-paced, being able to read a common paper and then share our thoughts allowed us to connect and learn, which was a great way for us to know each other.

A major highlight for me was the NASA speaker series. Every week our mentors would host multiple webinars with different NASA scientists who would talk about their careers and their pathways to those careers. One of the coolest webinars I attended was one by Dr. Gregory Chamitoff, an astronaut who flew to the ISS TWICE! Another really fascinating talk was by Dr. Prajakta Mane, a scientist who studies meteorites. She spoke about how meteorites are essentially snapshots of our solar system during its formation and how studying them can offer more insight into how our solar system, and potentially the universe, works and was formed.

Around week four, we began working on developing our own research projects. Until now, interns had studied different research projects and were contributing data to a large shared research project with each other and our mentors. However, now was the time to take the skills we learned to develop our own projects from scratch using the data we collected. It seemed slightly intimidating for me at first, but our mentors were with us every step of the way and patiently answered all of our questions.

 My team consisted of seven awesome members, which also happened to be the largest project group in the program. We worked together to figure out a mathematical equation that could predict the size and impact of a potential outbreak in a given area. We gathered infection rate data for chikungunya and malaria in areas in Uganda, India, and the US. We analyzed the pH of surrounding water sources, and collected average temperatures of the regions selected. We also created code

A snippet of JavaScript from our project

that generated a color-magnitude of each region. Using these variables and a Cobb-Douglas function, we inputted them into a Chi-Squared Test, from which we extrapolated a mathematical equation. It was tough work, but a rewarding experience nonetheless. With many of us being from different parts of the country, me from California, another from Florida, and the rest being from Texas, finding times to meet up and discuss our projects together was difficult. However, with the cooperation and effective use of the chat server Discord, we were able to work together to create our own research project. Overall, this internship experience was an incredible opportunity and a memorable experience, to say the least. I think what made this experience so rewarding was the fact that I fulfilled my goals of learning about research projects - which were my initial hopes going into SEES - but also, the fact that I was able to learn many new and unexpected lessons. I learned about how intensive research is from both mentors and mentees, and how projects are never really “finished”. There’s always more to learn, more to research, more to analyze, which can be quite exciting.

I further learned the value of teamwork and how, when utilized effectively, can yield great results. While I hope to continue to learn more and discover many more opportunities in the (hopefully!) near future, I know that SEES is a one-of-a-kind experience that has helped to shape my future career path.

Faguni G. is a high school student from California who is working on a research project this summer using the GLOBE Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper. Her virtual internship is part of a collaboration between the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and the NASA  Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) to extend the TSGC Summer Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship for U.S. high school (http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/sees-internship/). She shares her experience this summer in this guest blog post.

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