by Engineering Faculty

This team of Cedarville students deserves to receive the LERCIP Student Team of the Year Award because of their achievements, teamwork, professionalism, and outreach.

The primary work assigned to this team was an ambitious goal of designing, building, and testing two engineering enhancements to a major scientific instrument in the Structures and Materials Division X-ray Diffraction (XRD) Laboratory. This is a key instrument in our laboratory, and it provides crucial data for a number of NASA projects.

The task required a high degree of both engineering skill and creativity. In order to accomplish their goals, the team members laid out schedules and budgets. Then they applied their engineering skills to produce the needed mechanical and electrical designs, identified components for procurement, machined all of their own custom parts, and assembled and tested their projects.

As challenging as these tasks were, this team was also called upon to perform scientific research on top of this engineering work. A week before the students’ internship started, my lab was chosen to perform all of the XRD work for a high-profile joint research project with NASA Langley, which effectively doubled the already busy summer workload. Since XRD results are crucial to multiple division, center, and agency-wide materials research programs, I needed significant help from these students in order to accomplish this research. All four students rose to the occasion, quickly learning the theoretical fundamentals and practice of a scientific research technique completely outside of their fields of study. They prepared and collected XRD data on 125 samples and performed detailed crystallographic phase identification. These engineering and scientific achievements alone make them worthy of this award, but this is just the beginning of the story.

The teamwork displayed by these students was amazing. All of their efforts were extremely well coordinated. They made very good use of everyone’s individual talents, evenly distributing the work to be done and sharing resources. The students went out of their way to help their teammates with concepts they had not yet learned. Not once did I see even a glimmer of personal ambition rising about their commitment to team success.

In addition, these students were professionals in every way. They treated each other and everyone they met with courtesy, and they treated NASA equipment with care. The NASA technician overseeing the machine shop told me that it was a pleasure to work with the students, that they followed the safety regulations without fail, and that they always cleaned up after themselves. When one of their tasks required additional testing on a colleague’s test rig, the students asked if it would be possible to be trained to use the equipment so that they would not monopolize my colleague’s time. When a sanding machine malfunctioned, the two students reported this to me immediately.

On another occasion, a student came to me to discuss possible cross-contamination with an XRD sample. Many would have kept quiet, but these students displayed the highest level of integrity by doing the right thing. It would have been very natural for these students, all from the same university, to form their own clique. But they did just the pposite by drawing other students into their circle both during and after work. Upon learning that another mentor’s LERCIP student was celebrating a birthday, one of my students baked cupcakes, and the team held a lunchtime birthday party, including a number of students and mentors. They also reached out to represent NASA to the general public. The students volunteered to represent NASA by handing out stickers and posters at