Working with NASA to develop a sample tube of rock quartz from Mars in 2020, Sarah Sherman ’04 is currently in the process of building a key part of what will be the first mission to bring foreign substance from Mars back to Earth.
The Mars 2020 Mission is a projects that aims of ultimately send a rover to Mars with the purpose of analyzing the planet’s conditions of the planet and the sustainability of life on Mars. The year of the mission, 2020, was chosen because that year Earth and Mars will reach their closest proximity and will facilitate the rover’s path.
The rover will contain a sample tube that will collect minerals on Mars that will later be returned for NASA to examine. Designing the sample tube, however, is no easy task according to Sherman, as the collected samples must be airtight, allowing little to no gas from the Mars’ atmosphere.
Alongside a team of about 20 to 30 people, Sherman takes charge of fabricating a substance that will absorb all contamination and keep the interior of the sample tube airtight.
“We are trying to coat the inside of this tube with a material that keeps contamination from sticking to it. It’s something that hasn’t really been done before, [as] we are basically trying to keep carbon from sticking to the tube, and that is unusual,” said Sherman in a phone interview with The Phillipian.
The sample tube will be hermetically sealed, meaning that there will be no exchange of gases from the exterior of the tube to its interior.
Sherman’s usual workday consists of solving any challenges that arise in the building of the sample tube while also further creating its interior coating.
“About half of [my time] is filled with meetings, for a lot of the engineering we do involves interchange of technical information with other people… The other half of my time is spent doing analysis on stress,” said Sherman.
Sherman works with NASA at a Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the California Institute of Technology as a mechanical engineer.
She studied Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, where she graduated in 2008. After Princeton, she continued to find opportunities to pursue engineering.
“From [graduating Princeton], I got some internships doing some spacecraft, or astronautical engineering, so designing big crafts for [California Institute of Technology], and that helped me get prepared for aerospace engineering,” said Sherman.
Sherman found her passion for mechanical engineering at Andover.
“When I was a little kid, I used to enjoy playing with Legos, so I’ve definitely always enjoyed engineering things and building things. Through my time at Andover, I found that I enjoyed math and science quite a bit,” Sherman said.
At Andover, Sherman focused her academic studies in math and the sciences, taking challenging courses that focused on engineering. As a Senior, Sherman was the only female member of the engineering club at Andover. In addition, Sherman was a participant in Science Club for Girls, where she facilitated science experiments for middle school girls. She also rowed crew throughout all of her four years at Andover.
Sherman encourages current students to try new activities and take advantage of the opportunities presented while at Andover.
“A lot of people probably didn’t realize it, but when you were in high school – and especially at a place like Andover – you have plenty of opportunities available to try completely different things without having any prior experience with them. It may feel intimidating to pick up any sport or pick up any new hobby or interest, but this is absolutely the time to do it because they make it so easy for you at Andover. My advice would be to be as active as you can in clubs and activities. Don’t be afraid to branch out a little bit. You never know what will it will drive you to,” said Sherman.