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Two UHart Professors and Three Students are Working and Studying at NASA this Summer

Students and faculty soaring to new heights at NASA

Mechanical Engineering major Wesaam Lepak ’18 knows he’s achieved what many only dream of—landing an internship with NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). He is spending the summer working on a space shuttle system that, in the next two decades, may launch humans to the moon, asteroids, and Mars. 

“NASA has been a dream of mine for a while,” says Wesaam, a Washington D.C. native who cultivated his affinity for faraway places while living in Brazil and Qatar during elementary school and Germany and Sweden in high school. “NASA has some of the best engineers and scientists in the world, and my goal is to be part of that group,” Wesaam says with confidence.

His summer responsibilities in the Structural Dynamics Laboratory at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, take advantage of his concentration in acoustics, and include working with aerospace engineers to analyze the effects sound waves have on a space launch. “I’ve always found math and science interesting because it affects the world, and I also have a passion for music, which is where studying acoustics come in,” he shares.

Recent graduate Sara Huelsman ’17, headed to California this summer to intern in the Aeromechanics branch of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, and Lucas Shearer ’17, a former marine is doing his second NASA internship at the Fluid Dynamics branch of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Both majored in mechanical engineering with an acoustics concentration in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture (CETA) and both are working on sound measurement projects as their assignments this summer.

Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ivana Milanovic is also in Cleveland this summer with Wesaam. She was awarded a remarkable sixth NASA faculty fellowship award to conduct research this summer. Also in Cleveland is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Paul Slaboch, who secured his second NASA faculty fellowship. Milanovic says working for NASA isn’t an impossible dream. 

“While NASA internships are notoriously competitive for students to secure, the structure of UHart’s mechanical engineering and acoustics programs equips our future engineers with skills that are currently of great interest to NASA.”

These skills include the ability to engineer and analyze materials to optimize how sound is absorbed and transmitted. “Understanding acoustics and vibrations is critical to the success of a space mission, because as sound waves travel through the space shuttle, they have the ability to physically damage mission-critical components like the electrical and avionics systems,” explains Wesaam.

While Wesaam’s ultimate focus is on space exploration, he’s learned that NASA’s research extends beyond there. “Every aircraft in the U.S. has NASA-developed technology on board, so researching new ways to control jet engine noise on airplanes, especially when they take off and land, is part of what they do,” he says.

In fact, his time at NASA with professors Milanovic and Slaboch has included a preview of their research on reducing the noise level of jet engines to determine if there is a renewed future of commercial supersonic jets. (Click here to learn more about their faculty research.)

Wesaam says that his favorite part of the internship “is hearing all about the exciting research on cutting-edge technology that is going on around me and the idea that I could play a role in sending humans to Mars.”