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Want to go and create at NASA? 

Published: 
Monday, February 9, 2015
UWI students and last year’s NASA interns Jason Renwick, left, and Stefan Hosei with Dr Rawatee Maharaj-Sharma, member of the Niherst board and a lecturer in science education at the UWI School of Education and at far right, the public relations officer of the US Embassy of T&T, Stephen Weekes. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

“Silicon Valley culture is a lot different from Trinidad. There, they’re thinking of: ‘How can we create the next (technology) to revolutionise the world’… They’re always trying to improve… Here, we have a more subdued (tech) culture. We take what they have, and enhance on it a bit. We don’t actually try to create state-of-the-art (technology). ...(My Nasa internship) inspired me to bring this way of thinking here to Trinidad.”

So said graduate student Stefan Hosein as he responded to audience questions on the possibility of a culture of scientific and technological innovation here.

Stefan Hosein, and fellow UWI student Jason Renwick—both in their early 20s—were speaking on January 26 at the recent launch of Nasa’s 2015 International Internship Programme at UWI's new Teaching and Learning Complex at 27 Circular Road in St Augustine. The programme is inviting new applicants for this year’s intern spots. 

Deadline for applications is February 19, with the actual internship set to take place from June 1 to August 7. All expenses will be paid. The internships take place at the prestigious Ames Research Center located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley.

Hosein and Renwick participated in the Nasa internship programme last year. They both returned energised and poised to make their own scientific contributions right here in T&T, as they continue their university studies.

While T&T may not have astronauts or space programmes, students Hosein and Renwick said they have benefitted a great deal from the short but intense educational internships being offered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). And they encouraged eligible students here to not feel intimidated by the environment of advanced technology at Nasa, but to apply for what can be a great opportunity to learn.

The programme offers short internships to university science, technology, engineering and maths students (graduates and undergraduates) from the US and abroad, in a range of fields including advanced life support systems, nano biosensor development, power electronics prognostics, and data mining/analysis for self-regulating, intelligent “green” buildings. 

The programme is intensive, with an emphasis on group work, teamwork, research and creativity. Beneficiaries say it’s a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to cutting edge research as well as exchange ideas with eminent scientists and fellow researchers from different cultures. The content of the internship balances science and technology with issues of management, finance, and social and human issues faced by aerospace professionals, according to information from Niherst and Nasa. Students take part in seminars, informal discussions, evening lectures, supervised research, group projects and visits to Nasa centres and laboratories.

Many important technical innovations have been byproducts of America's space programme—including artificial heart pumps, modern weather satellites which warn us of hurricanes, and technology to increase crop yields. Nasa spinoffs to wider society have included innovations in medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, environmental and agricultural resources, computer technology and industrial productivity. 

So it's possible that the experience, exposure and professional connections that interns develop in the Nasa 2015 internship programme may lead one day to unexpected practical applications.

But it is frankly in the area of pure research (supported by Nasa's established network of scientific expertise and facilities) that last year’s T&T interns were most profoundly affected. 

That, and of course, the heady immersion experience of living in Silicon Valley, the very heart of hi-tech geekdom and amiable coffeeshop culture, with big names like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple headquarters, Stanford University, Skype, Facebook, and the Nasa Ames Exploration Centre there to fulfil many a technological wanderlust curiosity.
The interns observed that in T&T, there's less interest in pure research and way more interest here in the money-making aspects of science—such as making profits from mining hydrocarbons, for instance. They commented that the freedom to just do research, and help build a local hub of regional scientific innovation, has a tendency to be ignored in T&T.

“I love the research drive in Silicon Valley,” said Hosein; “If I could bring that back here, that would be great.”
Both returned interns said they had fantastic experiences, and thanked Niherst, Nasa, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the US Embassy and UWI (all partners in the programme) for making their internships possible.

Jason Renwick, who is from Trinity College and is now a UWI student studying for his degree in electrical and computer engineering, worked at his Nasa internship on a project in electronic prognosis with application to capacitors. Prognostics is an engineering discipline focused on predicting the time at which a system or a component will no longer perform its intended function. Renwick’s supervisors were so impressed with his work that they invited him to return to Nasa for another internship this year, to do ageing experiments which will lead to a research paper. After this, he will return to UWI in September 2015 to finish his degree. 

Renwick commented: “We live in an age of electronics. A possible consequence of our technology-centric lifestyle is that sometimes the failure of a simple electronic component can render an entire system ineffective. Accordingly, the field of prognostics was developed, to ensure the safety and reliability of such systems.” His research involved monitoring the degradation of capacitors exposed to accelerated ageing, to try to predict when capacitors might fail. 

He said that his internship experience at Nasa was “out of this world….The opportunity to work with leading scientists and top-of-the-line equipment was exceptional. I felt very comfortable as Nasa personnel were most welcoming and understanding of people from other cultures. The 2,000-acre compound is also home to a federal airfield, a golf course, the world’s largest wind tunnel, a supercomputer, and a working quantum computer. I even got the chance to drive a lunar Rover!” He said the internship “broadened my perspective of research and development far beyond my expectations. I was introduced to new methodologies and new problem-solving techniques.”


Stephan Hosein from Presentation College Chaguanas, graduated from UWI in 2014 with First Class Honours in Computer Science. An avid scuba diver, at his Nasa internship he worked in the field of artificial intelligence, using algorithms to predict when alarms would go off in Nasa’s state-of-the-art sustainable building. He and his mentor are working on a research paper about the open-source application they are developing; Hosein will return to Nasa this summer. After that, he plans to do postgraduate studies in artificial intelligence.

MORE INFO:

WHAT: Nasa International Internship Programme, to take place from June 1 to August 7, 2015 at the Nasa Ames Research Centre in California.
YOU CAN APPLY IF YOU: Are a TT citizen currently pursuing a graduate or undergraduate degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics in a topic relevant to Nasa's mission priorities, have a GPA of at least 3.0; have a demonstrated interest in the space programme
DEADLINE: February 19, 2015
DETAILS: Download the application form on NIHERST's website: http://www.niherst.gov.tt/awards/internships-nasa.html
CONTACT: International Internship Programme Team at NIHERST: Joanne Chin Sang, Lovaan Superville, Sean Deolat. Phone: 628-4398 / 622-7505. Email: [email protected] Website: niherst.gov.tt