Today you’re going to learn what it is like to work at NASA as an avionics failure analyst in the materials science field.
Specifically I’ll share with you an exclusive interview with the avionics failure analyst and materials engineer at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
So if you are wondering where a degree in chemistry and biology can take you, you’ll love this interview.
Let’s get started!
Interview with NASA MSFC Avionics Failure Analyst Engineer
Aida: Hi! My name is Aida Yoguely and I am a summer intern here at the Marshall Space Flight Center. As part of the NASA MUST program I am working with the EEE parts engineering and analysis team and today we shall be meeting my mentor Dr. Terry Rolin.
Dr. Rolin: Hi! My name is Dr. Terry Rolin and I am an Avionics Failure Analyst for Marshall Space Flight Center.
Aida: Where did you grow up in and what was it like?
Dr. Rolin: I grew up in a small town north of Huntsville, it’s called Ardmore, Alabama. I grew up in a farming community so we farmed cattle and hay mainly, no other crops but that.
Favorite Subject in School
Aida: Where did you attend school and what was your favorite subject?
Dr. Rolin: I attended school at Ardmore high and so I spent all K-12 at Ardmore. My favorite subject when I got into high school was physics
Major in College to do Failure Analysis
Aida: What was your major in college?
Dr. Rolin: I was a pre-med major with an emphasis in chemistry and biology. So I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology. Then I went on to grad school where I got my PhD in materials science.
Inspiration to work at NASA as a Failure Analyst
Aida: What inspired you to work at NASA?
Dr. Rolin: When I was working at Nichols Research Corporation, I was working in a lot of different fields, as I mentioned earlier I was looking at hurricane modeling and structural biology and I wanted to get more into the field of spectroscopy which was where my PhD was focused and NASA had a lot of work in that area, especially in failure analysis. So I decided to join NASA to try to work more in the spectroscopy field.
Career Path to NASA
Aida: Where did you work in before joining NASA?
Dr. Rolin: I worked with a company called Nichols Research Corporation and it was a small company that focused on military contracts and I also did a lot of super-computing modeling. So I modeled hurricanes in the gulf and I also did some structural biology studies where it’s mainly focused on super-computing modeling.
Current NASA Projects
Aida: Very exciting. What are your current projects?
Dr. Rolin: We are currently working on a CIF project which is a center of innovation fund where we are trying to develop a ultracapacitor to try to replace batteries and we are also working on, you know as failure analysts we are all the time trying to solve failures that occur, so we are working on what is called a silver-zinc battery that’s is our range safety battery that has failed.
Biggest Challenge as an Engineer
Aida: What was one of the biggest obstacles you’ve had as a engineer.
Dr. Rolin: The biggest obstacle I’ve had as an engineer at least here at Marshall has really been bureaucracy.
Working with the government has lots of layers of management and sometimes trying to get things done by working through those layers is tough but you just have to persevere.
Aida: What projects would you like to accomplish.
Dr. Rolin: The most important one that we got going right now is that center innovation fund, we want to build that ultracapacitor so that it works, so that we can repace the silver-zinc battery that is failing.
Coolest Moment at NASA Marshall
Aida: What was your most favorite moment at Marshall?
Dr. Rolin: My most memorable moment was probably when we solve the engine cut-of sensor problem that had been plaguing us for a long time. When we found that issue and we also found the issue with the feed through sensor that was real exciting for us.
Personal Goals of a NASA Engineer
Aida: Are there some personal goals you would like to accomplish this year?
Dr. Rolin: Yeah this year we would like to finish up our CIF project and try to get going on the next phase of it. We have had some areas that we need some improvement and I think we have had some eureka moments here lately so we are excited to try to get that going on into the next phase.
Aida: Do you have any hobbies? And what are your favorite things to do?
Dr. Rolin: Well I am an outdoors man and so any kind of outdoor activity. I like playing golf, I like hunting and fishing so those are my favorite activities outside of Marshall.
Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
Aida: What would you like to be doing ten years from now? Maybe 15?
Dr. Rolin: Well down the road, NASA recognizes there are a lot of technology gaps we have to fill in order to make our next mission, maybe mars or back to the moon. So I would like to look at those and try to develop some projects that can fill those technology gaps.
Advice for High School Students Interested in Failure Analysis
Aida: What advice do you have for a high school student interested in your occupation?
Dr. Rolin: Anyone who is wanting to get involved, especially with what NASA does, they have to understand mathematics and the sciences: physics, chemistry and things like that.
So you have to really buckle down and study and understand concepts in physics and chemistry to really work for a technical organization like this.
Aida: Thank you very much for your time and for the opportunity to have worked with you this summer Dr. Rolin.
Dr. Rolin: It’s been my pleasure Aida
Watch the full video interview: