Story by Isabella Mariani ’21
Amid the uncertainty of an unconventional Spring Term, Emily Harper ’22 received good news that’s keeping her eyes on the future. The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) awarded her a stipend for a summer research program, the Elijah Balloon Payload Team Educational Experience.
The grant is provided by NASA’s Space Grant Program, which works with partner universities like Lawrence to fund educational opportunities in science and aerospace in order to prepare students like Harper for careers in space science.
Harper, of Westerville, Ohio, applied for the Elijah Balloon Team on a suggestion from Jeff Clark, a professor of geosciences. She was in the process of applying to other summer research programs when this one came her way.
She is spending nine weeks with a research team made up mostly of engineering students. They will decide together what they want to test with Elijah, WSGC’s high-altitude balloon used to collect data in near-space environments. As a chemistry and English major, Harper looks forward to sharing new learning perspectives with her interdisciplinary team.
“Engineers think a lot differently than a standard chemistry standpoint,” she said, “so it will be interesting to see how I can work on a team with engineering students and solve problems together.”
Sparking an interest
Her interest in field research took root in the fall when she did chemistry fieldwork with her advisor, assistant professor of chemistry Deanna Donahue. She learned to love working in rugged conditions and unpredictable weather.
Of course, things will look a bit different this time around due to COVID-19. The summer research will move to an online format, and perhaps be based more in the design and development of the project.
Despite some uncertainty, Harper is thankful for what she’ll be able to experience. She hopes this summer’s research will inform her future career interests.
“When the pandemic started to get more serious and we were sent home for Spring Term, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do anything in terms of research opportunities for summer,” she said. “So, I’m very grateful that this program is still able to happen virtually.”
Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.