UAF student to intern in NASA’s flying laboratory

<i>Photo courtesy of Svea Southall</i><br/> NASA selected University of Alaska Fairbanks undergraduate student Svea Southall from a competitive pool of national applicants for its Student Airborne Research Program.
Photo courtesy of Svea Southall
NASA selected University of Alaska Fairbanks undergraduate student Svea Southall from a competitive pool of national applicants for its Student Airborne Research Program. She is seen here on a adventure in Kona, Hawaii.

NASA has selected a University of Alaska Fairbanks undergraduate student to intern in a most unusual laboratory — one that flies 2,000 feet high in the sky.

Svea Southall, a mathematics major from Unalakleet, will fly aboard a NASA research aircraft this summer to study the Earth’s lands, oceans and atmosphere.

The agency chose Southall from a competitive pool of national candidates. She is one of about 30 undergraduate students who will spend eight weeks interning with the NASA Student Airborne Research Program based in southern California.

“I’m ecstatic to be going, partly because I’ve never been, but I’m also eager to meet the other participants and learn as much as I can from this program,” she said.

The interns will work with scientists to learn all aspects of how to plan and execute a NASA airborne mission to collect scientific data.

“Students get a firsthand look at how NASA studies the Earth — from satellites, from aircraft and from the ground — and participate in a full end-to-end research experience,” said Emily Schaller, the program’s manager.

<i>Photo courtesy of NASA</i><br/> University of Alaska Fairbanks undergraduate student Svea Southall will learn how to operate a lab aboard a NASA C-23 Sherpa aircraft such as this to collect data on the land, ocean and atmosphere.
Photo courtesy of NASA
University of Alaska Fairbanks undergraduate student Svea Southall will learn how to operate a lab aboard NASA’s C-23 Sherpa aircraft to collect data on the Earth’s land, ocean and atmosphere.

As part of the experience, students will install and operate scientific instruments on NASA’s C-23 Sherpa plane. They will also develop and present an individual research project focused on the data they collected. Schaller said the students will also learn how to work as a team across disciplines that include science, technology, engineering and Southall’s forte — math.

“Svea has a strong mathematics background and a clearly stated interest in applying her mathematical skills to studying the Earth system,” she said. “We are excited to have her in our program.”

The chair of UAF’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Leah Berman, is also excited for Southall to embark on her first summer internship before her senior year.

“It’s great for students to use mathematics and statistics in the context of working on actual real-world problems, where they don’t even know that an answer exists, much less what the answer is,” said Berman. “It’s also nice for them to see how to apply the math they learned in the classroom to different situations.”

Southall said she expects to learn a lot from the internship and has already learned a valuable lesson about applying for what she thought was a long-shot opportunity.

“I hope this encourages others to always go after the things that they want to do, even if they seem out of reach,” she said.

CONTACT: Meghan Murphy, College of Natural Science and Mathematics, mmmurphy3@alaska.edu, 907-474-7541