By Jeanna Packard
Stories in this student-led and -written Outlook series highlight the distinctive summer internships and work experiences of students from across the academic spectrum.
While finalizing applications for physical therapy programs, Stephanie Horsfield, a recent exercise physiology graduate from Akron, Ohio, made a peculiar addition to her lengthy list of to-do's: Apply for NASA internship. Check.
"I applied on a whim," Horsfield said of the research position, which focused on the physiological effects of microgravity. The whim paid off.
Horsfield was among 15 interns selected from a pool of 101 applicants for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute's summer internship program in Galveston, Texas.
Working alongside NASA scientists, Horsfield focused on the Bed Rest Project, a study that tracked effects such as cardiovascular and muscular changes resulting when individuals are confined to bed.
Bed rest mimics the effects of space flight, said Horsfield, explaining that astronauts and bed rest patients experience similar muscular deterioration.
Unlike on Earth, where gravity pulls bodily fluids to the feet, an astronaut's bodily fluids shift to the torso. A comparable shift occurs when patients lie horizontally for long periods of time. According to Horsfield, the bed rest study research can improve pre- and post-flight rehabilitation methods for astronauts.
The internship exposed Horsfield to the research and science behind rehabilitation -- experiences that will aid her future career in physical therapy.
"I've been exposed to research and rehabilitation in the extreme sense," she said. "I see the rehabilitation and preventative measures for astronauts and how it is applicable to the general population."
Horsfield also had the opportunity to participate in educational activities in which she learned about other NASA research and heard accounts from astronauts, including the crew of the most recent space shuttle launch.
"This summer internship program provides students the opportunity to learn first-hand about human spaceflight activities by working on projects that will help the United States reach its exploration goals," said Jeffrey Sutton, who directs the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. "Talented students such as Stephanie gain valuable exposure to research for exploration, and we are excited to help inspire the next generation of scientists."
Since its start in 1998, the institute's internship program has involved 99 interns. Applicants must be U.S. citizens with at least two years of college credit. Research experience and a candidate's interest in space life sciences also are taken into consideration, according to Brad Thomas, senior communication specialist for the institute.
But the invitation from NASA wasn't the only acceptance letter Horsfield received this summer. She also was admitted into Ohio University's physical therapy program. Though she originally planned to begin coursework this past June, faculty deferred Horsfield's start date to June 2009 so she could accept the internship.
"She received the fundamental education (as an undergraduate) here at Ohio University, and now she (has) put that knowledge into action," said Edward Potkanowicz, a faculty member in recreation and sports sciences. "She will be one leg up on her fellow student colleagues because she has had time to apply her science fundamentals into practice."
And although she's unsure where a physical therapy degree will take her, she's open to a future with NASA.
"You can never tell what will be needed for space exploration," Horsfield said. "I'd like to come back (to NASA) if I'm needed. If not, I'll find another way to apply this experience."
Updated Oct. 27, 2008, to include Horsfield's home town.