HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — 23 Sep 10
Sewanee Student gets the Micro and the Macro of Diodes and Shuttles
By: Heather L. Ogletree
Erin Brahm has always dreamed of working for NASA.
“In my childhood, the environment of rockets and cutting edge technology in that mysterious place known as Redstone Arsenal seemed to be a magical arena of wonder,” Brahm said. “Now that I am older, I am excited to have the opportunity to work in the magical place of my childhood.”
In the summer of 2010, Brahm realized that dream when the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) offered her the opportunity to participate in a 10-week internship at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in her hometown of Huntsville, Ala.
USRP paired Brahm with NASA mentor Dr. Terry Rolin to work on a project entitled “Instrumental Methods in Electronics Failure Analysis.” Brahm was taught how to operate X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy,nanofocus radiography and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy equipment in order to test diodes, which are critical to pyrotechnic initiator card operation and many other shuttle element functions. Her work culminated in a published paper entitled, “Three-Dimensional Computed Tomography as a Method for Finding Die Attach Voids in Diodes”.
“NASA analyzes [Electrical, Electronic, and Electromechanical] parts used in space vehicles to understand failure modes of these components, and engineers use this knowledge to avoid failures that impact safety, cost, and schedule,” explains Brahm.
Essentially, if something as small as a diode malfunctions, a shuttle launch could be scrubbed. This is very costly and could affect scheduling of subsequent launches.
Brahm said this internship taught her “to pay as much attention to the tiny details as to the big picture of a project.”
Brahm is currently a junior studying chemistry at Sewanee: The University of the South, where she also is a part of the varsity volleyball team. Upon graduation, she intends to pursue her master’s degree in chemical engineering and hopes to one day become a part of green energy research.When asked her advice for future interns, she responded, “Hard work will be rewarded! You will both learn more and have more fun if you ask questions and go above and beyond of what is asked of you.”