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Source: University of Waikato

University of Waikato Masters student Rosemary Swears is off to the US for an internship at NASA.

She may not be precisely a rocket scientist, but she’s coming close to it. Rosemary is working on a project that will help improve the monitoring of astronauts health in space. She is one of four inaugural NASA interns, and the only woman. The programme involves a New Zealand Space Agency scholarship, and was created to allow New Zealand tertiary students to work collaboratively on research with a NASA mentor.

Rosemary will be carrying out her research with NASA’s Dr Jessica Koehne at the Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley. The project involves making and testing a sensor device that can be printed onto paper in situ and on demand, rather than being sent up from Earth when it’s needed, or being forced to take a heavy clunky gadget into space. The device will be used to detect the biomarkers that enter the bloodstream during a cardiac event, to monitor astronauts’ health.

Rosemary has travelled fairly extensively, but says she’s always wanted to go to America, because it is where a lot of culture comes from. NASA is the wow factor. “They’re slightly beyond cutting edge. Think about all the cool tech that came out of the space race. They’re still doing it but are just a little bit quieter about it. The Mars 2020 rover will be the first thing ever to be brought back from Mars. There are instruments on it that should be impossible.“

Her advice for would-be NASA interns is to be patient. Rosemary applied in September, and can only just talk about it now. She was, however, allowed to tell her immediate family. “My mother and father are both extremely proud.”

The opportunities Rosemary has had at the University of Waikato staff have been crucial in getting her to NASA.  They have included two Summer Research Scholarships – one with Professor Michael Mucalo, analyzing household ceramic plates for hazardous heavy metals, and one with Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris, studying the sugar composition of honey and the potential health benefits of some of those components, which is also the focus of her Masters thesis. She worked with Professor Bill Henderson on a review of solid rocket propellants, and she is currently working on a side-project with Dr Alista Fow,  designing and testing a series of new solid rocket propellants.

The internship runs from June through to August, and aims to  support the country’s high achieving students in space-related activities, as well as build capability in the country’s space economy.