of Mines senior Courtney Carlson recently returned from an
eight-month internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She is shown here in one of NASA's clean rooms.
RAPID CITY, S.D. (Oct. 31, 2016) – Courtney Carlson, a
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology senior, recently returned from an
eight-month research-based internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
where she studied the impact of microscopic contamination on other planets.
Carlson, a chemical and biological engineering major
from Brandon, S.D., was one of 19 Mines students awarded a 2016 South Dakota
Space Grant. She spent her internship at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
The highly sought-after grants are awarded to South
Dakota students by the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, headquartered
at Mines, with the opportunity to do research as interns at various NASA
“Microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, archaea, etc. – are
ubiquitous on Earth, and if proper countermeasures are not implemented, they
can easily latch onto space-bound equipment,” said Carlson’s advisor Rajesh
Sani, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering.
To prevent this, the Biotechnology and Planetary
Protection Group at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory dedicates much of its
efforts to researching potential culprits for forward contamination and
developing sterilization methods.
Carlson’s research focused on characterizing
microorganisms isolated from extreme environments and testing their
survivability under simulated Mars conditions. She uncovered a strain of
bacteria that could serve as a model specimen for developing new sanitation
techniques to prevent forward contamination. She also worked on characterizing
the microorganisms that inhabit the International Space Station.
Carlson worked at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory from January to August and has returned to campus for the
fall 2016 semester to continue research under Sani and work on drafting a
manuscript to publish her research findings.