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An out of this world experience

NASA internship changes the lives of two young men
  •  Justin Lockhart 22, left, and Oliver Lundy, 21, right, recently participated in an eight-week summer program at NASA which they said has changed both of their lives. Lundy describes it as a confidence booster, and Lockhart said it was a major factor in him being hired at his current job. BARBARA THOMPSON

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Oct 03, 2012

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Eight weeks at a NASA summer experience have forever changed the lives of two young men — one now has the confidence that he can get into the university of his choice, and the other believes the experience factored in heavily into him recently obtaining employment.

Oliver Lundy, 21, a senior who is studying biology at The College of The Bahamas with a minor in chemistry, and Justin Lockhart, 22, a recent Bucknell University graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, were recipients of the Alf Thompson Memorial Scholarship, which allowed them to participate in the summer internship. They described the experience as spectacular.

“It was awesome,” said Lundy. “The internship has helped to alter my mindset and let me know that I am capable of greatness and that I don’t need to freak out or have a nervous breakdown … and it also looks pretty good on my resume.”

Lundy is hoping to study at the University of Toronto to obtain his master’s degree in biomedical engineering, and also hopes to get his doctorate degree and ultimately do research and teach.

“It’s a huge confidence booster, because if I hadn’t done the internship, I would be freaking out right about now, about where [school] I’m going to go and if they would accept me, but hey … if I was good enough to go to NASA, I can do this. I can get to a good school and I’m confident in my abilities that I can survive in any research lab,” he said.

Lundy’s eight-week NASA stint was divided into two segments. He spent one week at the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex to allow him to acclimate to his surroundings. His next seven weeks were spent in the deep waters of the Space Life Sciences Lab (SLSL).

His foray into the world of professional research science at NASA began with a balloon launch, attached to which was a payload containing a GPS unit and a camera connected with twine.

“What was even more eyebrow raising than the [five-foot] balloon was the team of minds launching it,” said Lundy. “The balloon was coordinated and the payload designed by a group of high school students from the Kansas Cosmo sphere who after a few tours of the space center grounds were able to make a payload so efficient that it went higher than payloads designed by college students, while still maintaining video and GPS contact.”

Lundy toured and helped to coach the high school students through designing the payload, and coordinating the launch, without actually giving them the answers. While he said the task proved to be more difficult than it sounded, he said it was all the more impressive when the students had accomplished their tasks.

Passionate about research

The remainder of his summer was spent assisting University of Florida researchers on an experiment that had him studying the effects of microgravity on the mutualistic interactions between the luminescent bacteria, Vibrio fischeri, the bobtailed squid, and Euprymna scolopes. He described his participation in the execution of the experiment as exhilarating.

“Much of my time was spent performing tasks that were essential to the continued function of the experimental apparatus and the lab as a whole. I was responsible for preparing media plates on which the Vibrio fischeri bacteria were grown, and performing the bacteria streaks on these plates.” It was a skill he learned from Dr. Christina Khodadd, a researcher in the Foster Lab.

Lundy also made cultures from the colonies to be introduced to the squid. He also aided in the sterilization of the laboratory apparatus and was also tasked with mixing reagents to replenish the laboratory’s reserves. But the majority of his time was spent caring for the actual squid, cleaning the tanks, making sure the water contained an appropriate level of ammonia, or moving the squid clutches to sterile conditions to minimize the chance of contamination from the adult squid.

Under the guidance of Jennifer Mobberley, a senior graduate student who works under Dr. Jamie Foster, Lundy said he also learned how to extract DNA from several types of organisms, run a Polymerase Chain Reaction (amplify) on the extracted DNA, and perform a DNA gel electrophoresis to allow for analysis of the DNA.

And he said he developed a deep respect for Dr. Foster, a tenured professor at the University of Florida who served as his internship mentor.

For the college senior, one of his most significant achievements during his time at NASA was learning to live with a stranger while functioning independently of his familial and peer-based support structures. Even though it was only eight weeks, the NASA summer internship was Lundy’s first time away from home for an extended period of time.

“Overall, the internship was a wonderful experience that undoubtedly changed my life for the better,” said Lundy. “But what really got me was that I wasn’t overwhelmed. I learned that I could survive in a professional research lab, so it was mind-blowing that I actually knew what to do.”

The son of Martin and Laura Lundy, is currently an honor roll student at COB, and said that education is important to him, especially as his mother was an educator and all of his older siblings were high achievers. But he does admit to having had a few hits or misses over the years.

“To be perfectly honest, my study habits were terrible in primary school. In high school, I would read the notes and cram before a test, but it wasn’t until college that I started to read my notebook every day before a test, but then I felt like my mind was burning out, and it wasn’t until one of my senior courses, that I actually developed a method that was easy for me and that worked. What I do now is read my notebook, three times a day before a test and by test time, I’m usually amazed by what I know,” he said.

Besides Lundy, the youngest in his family, has a lot to live up to coming from what he terms a “high academic achieving family”, and having education coded in his genes. His mother was a teacher and his sister Agnessa participated in every sport in high school while maintaining a high grade point average. His brother, Martin Jr., did not participate in as many sports, but also maintained a high grade point standing.

“But I kind of learned the hard way that your report card or transcript doesn’t always tell the whole story, so just do the best you can and move on. I still strive for the A, but now I don’t freak out so much if I get a B,” said Lundy.

Justin Lockhart’s experience

Having a NASA internship on your resume certainly opens lots of doors, according to 22-year-old Justin Lockhart. He believed it was a major factor in his recent hiring in the engineering department at Baha Mar.

“Putting the word NASA on your resume certainly opens a lot of doors, and I just started working full time at Baha Mar,” he said. “But over the course of the eight weeks, I learned a plethora of invaluable skills in lab research and real world independence. Having just graduated from university a Bachelor of Science Degree in mechanical engineering, I was eager to do an engineering research project. Sadly, nonetheless, Kennedy Space Center’s security executives could not provide me with the clearance needed to participate in engineering research projects. Alternatively, I assisted with two biology research projects and a balloon launch.

Like Lundy, Lockhart’s first week was spent working at the visitor’s complex on the balloon launch workshop where he operated in the role as a camp counselor and supervisor. He also helped the accelerated high school students by teaching them basic physics and mechanical engineering principles to help them speed up the process of designing their balloon launch assembly.

Lockhart said the first week of the internship was a great experience because he learned for the first time how to teach children and it taught him the development of organizational skills.

Because he was unable to receive access to get into the engineering program, Lockhart did not twiddle his thumbs, for the next seven weeks of the program, he assisted with the veggie research project (a low-resource plant growth system that can provide a source of fresh food and crew recreation for long duration space missions).

“Hilarious enough, I became somewhat of a botanist with negligible plant background education over the course of the internship,” said Lockhart.

He also worked on the long-term effects of microgravity on mutualistic bacteria with Lundy — the study performed by the University of Florida.

“Overall, the internship was a spectacular experience and I am forever grateful for the opportunity,” said Lockhart. “The experience definitely helped a lot because it helped me learn how to live on my own and be completely independent. It was different from being in college,” he said.

Lundy and Lockhart were only the second set of Bahamians to participate in the NASA summer intern program under the sponsorship of the Alf Thompson Memorial Scholarship. Exuma native Vado McKenzie was the first to participate in 2011.

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