PASADENA, Calif. – 05 DEC 12
Intern Chronicles Evolution of Planetary Atmosphere
In our nation’s quest for knowledge, we look to the stars to try to understand our place in the universe. Still, many questions remain unanswered. But as technology has advanced, so has the understanding of our solar system and our ability to answer old questions as well as create new ones.
This summer, NASA Intern Joshua Shutter came to the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to gain 10 weeks of hands-on experience with the chemical evolution of planetary atmospheric modeling under the guidance of Karen Willacy and Mark Allen. At JPL, a wealth of planetary scientists study our solar system and specialize in the quantitative study of major and minor planetary bodies, mapping out and characterizing all aspects in support of current and future possible planetary missions.
Shutter, a senior chemistry major, came to NASA with experience in millimeter-wave rotational spectroscopy from his research at University of Wisconsin; however he said of his project at JPL, “It was my first time working on a project that was purely computational. [It] entailed having to update the photochemical database used by the Caltech/JPL KINETICS Chemical Transport Model which is used to model planetary atmospheres, such as Mars and Titan, and has been used to model comets and protoplanetary disks.”
It was his task to “account for and analyze the few thousand individual data files that were collected from photochemical databases and literature searches.” It was a challenge of time management, but Shutter managed to complete this task through utilizing standardized nomenclature and consistent formatting within the data files. At the same time, Shutter had to learn to effectively communicate project issues and accomplishments to his mentors. He commented, “By overcoming these challenges, I was able to perform my best at JPL.”
While compiling the database, Shutter was responsible for checking the atmospheric data points. “The most interesting aspect about atmospheric modeling [was] having to account for all the parameters that affect an atmosphere’s chemical composition over time,” said Shutter. “Small errors in initial conditions can lead to misleading results at some later time, so it’s highly important to obtain the highest resolution and most current photochemical data as possible.”
After he graduates, Shutter plans to attend graduate school to further his knowledge of Chemistry.
Of his overall experience, Shutter noted, “I definitely liked all the seminars and tours, but I especially enjoyed all the scientists and engineers who make the culture at JPL very unique and exciting. I would especially like to thank Karen Willacy and Mark Allen as well as Petra Kneissl-Milianian in the Office of Education for all of their guidance and assistance while I was at JPL. It was very much appreciated.”