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ISU physics student helps NASA develop better spacecraft windows

ISU Physics student Zachary Temple presents research from his internship at NASA.

ISU Physics student Zachary Temple presents research from his internship at NASA.

Illinois State physics major Zachary Temple has spent this semester at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, Virginia. As one of about 50 interns selected to work at LaRC this semester, Temple has been helping to classify and identify new materials that can be used for windows in spacecraft.

“Exploring the unknown and doing something few men and women have had the chance to do has always interested me. That’s why going to space interests me. It pushes the boundaries of humanity.” — Zachary Temple

Temple is a double major in physics and computational physics at ISU, and his time at NASA comes during the final semester of his undergraduate career. Prior to performing research at NASA, Temple was a member of Allison Harris’s research group, studying charged particle collisions and dynamics.

“Zack is a fantastic student, and his time at ISU has prepared him well for this internship. Our curriculum trains students to be experts in computational physics, and Zack has been a valuable member of my group.  I had no doubt that he would be successful at NASA,” Harris said.

Temple says he was inspired to apply for the internship because of a lifelong dream of working at NASA and maybe becoming an astronaut.

“Exploring the unknown and doing something few men and women have had the chance to do has always interested me,” Temple said. “That’s why going to space interests me. It pushes the boundaries of humanity.”

While the research side of NASA may not be as glamorous as being rocketed into space, it’s crucial to NASA’s work. Temple explains that finding new materials is important for future space missions.

“As space exploration progresses, the aerospace community has identified a need to develop transparent optical window materials,” he said. “However, in order to be used for aerospace applications such as crewed spacecraft, habitats, and high-performance vehicles, these materials must exceed or meet the properties of the current windows used.”

During his time at NASA, Temple has worked on three separate projects and is the only intern in his group. His main task was to perform metrology testing, analyze data, and create a comprehensive optical database for the team.

“I feel like I’m applicable,” Temple said. “I’ve learned a lot.”

Following his internship at NASA, Temple will further hone his computational skills this summer by participating in an internship at Wolfram Research, in Champaign.

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