Mines News

Release Date Monday, October 31, 2016

Microscopic Contamination on Other Planets Focus of NASA Internship

School 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 Pasadena, Calif.

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 Centers. 

“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.


About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,778 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $61,300. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

Contact: Fran LeFort, (605) 394-6082, Fran.LeFort@sdsmt.edu

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