Co-op Leads to NASA Dream

Written by Liz Duffy, BS, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Class of 2011.

“I chose North­eastern for the co-op pro­gram,” recalls Duffy. “I saw it as a way to get to NASA.” She was right. Duffy started out her career with the gov­ern­ment agency as a co-op stu­dent in the Plan­e­tary Sam­pling Acqui­si­tion and Han­dling group, which develops and opti­mizes instru­ments for col­lecting sam­ples from other bodies in space.

“I like coming to work and I like being part of some­thing bigger,” she said. It was par­tic­u­larly rewarding to be there for the Curiosity landing: “Being here when MSL landed on Mars was amazing. It was one of the best nights ever.”

While attending Northeastern Duffy also landed a co-op at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on various planetary sampling projects. Upon graduation, Duffy has landed her dream job with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Co-op 1 and 2:

Charles Stark Draper Laboratory/BlazeTech Corporation

Searching for her first co-op at Northeastern Duffy began work in 2008 at MIT’s Draper Laboratory. This lab is focused on the design, development, and deployment of technological solutions for the nation’s problems in security, space exploration, healthcare, and energy. Duffy combined her studies in mechanical and industrial engineering at the College of Engineering with real-world experience. While on co-op she tested materials for CTE, density, magnetic and tensile properties, modeled and designed components for thermal analysis of the guidance system and designed several test fixtures/systems using Pro-E.

The second mechanical engineering co-op was at BlazeTech Corporation, an engineering consulting firm based in Woburn, MA. Here she furthered her experiential education by organizing technical reports, aligning lasers, lenses, particles, and detectors in combustion test apparatus, and designing new housing for a wireless fire detector to name a few.

Co-op 3:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Duffy’s third and final co-op brought her all the way to California at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This is where she was able to get closer to her dream of working for NASA. Some key roles she had while on co-op were,

  • Designing and organizing a large scale test area and testing procedure in support of Moonrise, a NASA New Frontiers Proposal
  • Performing extensive research on and prepared lunar simulant for testing the Moonrise mechanical scoop in conditions similar to the moon
  • Assisting engineers with drawings and SLA models of a drill designed to obtain cores from Martian rocks
  • Managing the research, procurement, and organization of technical equipment for a new Actuator and Mechanics Lab, as well as assisting a team of engineers in the design and layout of the lab

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering