NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) 2021 Intern

Hear about Emily’s experience on the NASA JPL remote internship programme.

Emily Kendall was the first New Zealand student to carry out an internship with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory under the Visiting Student Research Programme. Not only was Emily the first JPL intern, but had the added challenge of being the first student to undertake a remote internship.

Emily Kendall on cloud computing, machine learning and the Hubble Space Telescope

How did you become passionate about space related technology?

I’ve been passionate about physics since I was a child. In particular, I’ve always been really interested in astrophysics and cosmology. Looking at images like those from the Hubble Space Telescope makes you appreciate just how vast and exciting our universe is. To pursue a career in this field, I first completed an Undergraduate Honours degree in theoretical physics at King’s College London. After that, I spent some time working in other fields, but found myself constantly drawn back to physics. I therefore decided to complete a Masters degree at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. From there, I knew I wanted to specialise in astrophysics and cosmology, and began my PhD in computational cosmology at the University of Auckland in 2018.

What do you enjoy about space related science?

I enjoy both the theoretical and technical aspects of space science. Without the advanced technology that goes into building instruments like space-based telescopes, we would not have access to the vast datasets needed to make progress theoretically. Furthermore, as the field of cosmology progresses, it is increasingly reliant on large-scale computer simulations in order to verify model predictions. The computing infrastructure used for this work is advancing at an incredible pace, and experimenting with this technology is what got me interested in NASA JPL. At JPL, scientific research and computing technology come together across a huge range of projects.

How do you think this kind of technology can be used to benefit New Zealand and create new opportunities in the future?

The technology developed at places like JPL is not limited to space science, however. The computational tools developed in the pursuit of space science goals have many more applications across a plethora of industries. For example, software developed for one particular use case can often be generalised for use in many other disciplines, both scientific and industrial. I think it’s very important for New Zealand based technologists to develop expertise in this field, as the modern world becomes increasingly reliant on high-performance computing and technology. Furthermore, as New Zealand is now building capacity in the space sector, the demand for people with first-hand experience in the workings of international facilities such as NASA will grow enormously. I think that there is a huge opportunity for New Zealand to carve out its own unique niche in this global industry, and for this we will need many more trained experts!

What have you been working on during your internship at NASA JPL?

At NASA JPL, I’m working within the Artificial Intelligence, Analytics, and Innovative Development Organisation to facilitate the use of the extensive range of cloud-based computing resources within a diverse range of JPL projects. As the IT systems that power our modern technology become more and more powerful, industries are gradually turning to cloud-based infrastructure to increase their computing capabilities, reliability, and durability.

Cloud-based computing tools cover everything from data storage and infrastructure provisioning to machine learning and quantum computing.

Cloud-based computing offers a range of advantages when compared to traditional on-site computing. These include increased ease of oversight into current network configurations, as well as ease of integrating tools from different platforms into existing infrastructure. Furthermore, computing capacity can be increased on-demand by accessing remote resources which operate only when needed, improving overall efficiency and scalability.

As scientific research and development accelerates throughout NASA JPL, our team ensures that case-specific computing infrastructure is provisioned and managed efficiently, and we are continually exploring new cloud-based tools to advance research capabilities throughout the facility.

I’m excited to be working in this area, gaining experience in using technologies which can be applied to a huge range of industrial applications, with demand for expertise in this area growing exponentially.

Last updated: 29 August 2022