West Virginia University junior chemistry major William Brezinski used the research skills he learned here to take to the skies in California and identify pollution.
Brezinski, a native of Athens, W.Va., joined 28 other college students from across the country in California, to participate in the Student Airborne Research Program internship, a NASA affiliate program.
Brezinski and the other students studied earth system processes, calibration and prototyping instruments for possible satellite missions during the internship. As a member of the internship’s atmospheric chemistry program, Brezinski was qualified to operate instruments onboard a DC-8 aircraft to collect atmospheric chemical samples while flying over Palmdale, Calif.
After spending two days in intense classes at the University of California, Irvine, the participants began flights and lab testing at the Dryden Flight Research Center.
Brezinski and his fellow teammates used remote sensing to collect atmospheric chemical samples, sometimes from as low as 1,000 feet above the ground.
“It scared a lot of people so much so that some even called the cops to complain,” Brezinski said.
Though he and the other interns had some downtime on the flights, that didn’t last long because once back on the ground the team had a lot of data analysis ahead in the lab.
“We analyzed every peak of every graph from the more than 600 samples six times,” Brezinski said. “It was a lot of work. I was already familiar with working in a lab from my chemistry classes, so that helped with finding my way around.”
The SARP interns did the testing in reverse from the normal scientific model. They formed a hypothesis after they recorded all the data from their collected sample.
Then Brezinski and the other students had to take an aspect of their findings and create individual 10-minute presentations.
“At first the presentation was daunting because there was a lot of data and equations to sift through, but I started with a simple outline and went from there,” Brezinski said.
Brezinski chose to focus on a special man-made solvent that is used in the dry-cleaning process but can also successfully trace urban pollutants.
He chose to present his project in a simplified manner so that people not associated with the science community could understand.
“I felt like I produced a lot,” Brezinski said about his internship.
He now plans to focus on the environment and atmospheric chemistry during the rest of his college career, an interest he credits his internship with sparking and developing.
In between research, he got a chance to explore southern California.
“We had a lot of down time in the evenings,” Brezinski said. “We explored the city’s restaurants, played a lot of volleyball and visited a couple beaches. Huntington Beach was a madhouse on the Fourth of July.”
To enter the program, students are required to send in a three-page personal statement detailing their interest in pursuing research in earth sciences and a letter of recommendation from a professor. They are chosen based on a list of criteria, which include academic performance and evidence of being a team player, interest in earth system science and promise of contributing to the nation’s future workforce.
Brezinski heard about the internship from his adviser and decided to apply, but he never really imagined he would receive a spot.
“I didn’t think I would stand out among the other applicants,” said Brezinski.
But he did.
As one of the few juniors among mostly rising seniors and a smattering of graduate students, Brezinski was nervous in the beginning about going all the way across the country for a two-month long internship.
“Meeting the other interns was a little intimidating at first,” Brezinski said.
He credits his attendance at WVU, a large university with a diverse student population, with preparing him for interactions with any group of people.
For more information on the internship, go to: http://www.nserc.und.edu/learning/SARP.html
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