For many interns, working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For senior chemical engineering major Colin Howman, it’s a repeat performance.
He interned with the organization in 2017, and came back this summer, working in the JPL’s fluid propulsion group.
“I worked to analyze heat and mass transport phenomena in systems utilizing the unique properties of various fluids,” he said. “I’m on projects like thermal modeling of a CO2 acquisition system, thermodynamic modeling of fuel marks, dust entrainment modeling from rocket exhaust and building a pump test bed.”
Howman’s road to the JPL began in Rice’s Center for Career Development. He approached the on-campus resource center because he was interested in an externship. He was placed with his current boss, who supervises JPL’s propulsion and fluid systems group. That opportunity led to an internship last summer, where Howman worked on a heat dissipation system for the Cold Atom Laboratory and a proof-of-concept gaseous dust removal system for a Europa lander.
He said his studies at Rice have been essential to his success at his internships, but the hands-on training those summers at the JPL have given him are invaluable.
“Something I’ve had to learn on the fly is how to tackle the questions and problems that come up in propulsion systems. On homework, there’s usually only one right answer to a very structured problem. At NASA, problems are open ended. You have to be the one to come up with an innovative solution and, due to the nature of the work, you’re probably the first person to try.”
Following his graduation, Howman plans to attend graduate school and possibly pursue a Ph.D. His career goal is to work in research and development for NASA or a similar company.