Internship engages NAU senior’s childhood dream

Sierra Ferguson and her poster
Sierra Ferguson displays her research at the NASA Goddard Space Flight intern poster fair.
Sierra Ferguson displays her research at the NASA Goddard Space Flight intern poster fair.

Children grow up with career aspirations inspired out of innocence, and Sierra Ferguson was no different from the rest.

But the paths to ballerina or veterinarian led nowhere near the destinations reached by Star Trek, her childhood favorite, so the dream was born: Ferguson wanted to be a space scientist.

Thanks to a summer internship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, this physics and astronomy major is well on her way to turning that dream into a reality.

Goddard is home to the nation’s largest organization of scientists, engineers and technologists who build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study Earth, the solar system and the universe.

As part of Goddard’s education programs, a highly competitive summer internship is offered to students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Spending the last 10 weeks researching cryovolcanic domes on Jupiter’s moon of Europa, Ferguson said the hands-on experience working on the NASA-funded project has been invaluable. “This internship allows me to explore other regions of planetary science that I haven’t had a chance to work in before,” she explained. “I have the opportunity to work on research that I’m highly interested in doing more of in graduate school.”

Compiling a database of the diameters, areas, coordinates and physical descriptions of the domes, the research Ferguson is conducting will help her NASA mentors better understand the mechanisms at play during the formation of Europa’s icy volcanoes.

Ferguson credits NAU with preparing her to take on the opportunity, allowing her to delve into this internship with a sound knowledge base. “I have gained a strong foundation in understanding physics and how it is applied in the real world, which has allowed me to more easily grasp the theoretical work that has been previously conducted on Europa. I found myself applying quite a bit of the material learned in NAU’s astrophysics of the solar systems class to the research I’ve been doing at Goddard.”

More than 6,000 students applied for one of Goddard’s summer internships. Ferguson was one of the 450 applicants chosen.

NAU Communications