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Sarah W.

Sarah is a senior mechanical engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh. During her time, Sarah has been an undergraduate teaching assistant for three courses, an undergraduate research assistant, and a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) intern. Some of Sarah’s most exciting accomplishments are related to her research done in collaboration with NASA JPL. Sarah has developed fast, thermal-electric coupled analytic models of Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) that have allowed for the evaluation of new heat sources and thermoelectric materials in support of future deep-space and subsurface exploration missions, such as the Europa cryobot. Using her university's supercomputing facilities, Sarah’s models have shown RTGs can achieve a specific power of 11 [W/kg] - twice that achieved by current systems. Sarah has also developed high-fidelity fully-coupled three-dimensional numeric models of these devices to both probe unique thermoelectric phenomena and validate her fast analytic models. Her work has culminated in six international conference presentations, four peer-reviewed conference papers and two journal papers. Seeing both NASA JPL use her codes, and her codes demonstrating a vast improvement in RTG performance, a passion for education, discovery and scientific computing was ignited. Sarah is currently interning for NASA JPL during her last year of her undergraduate career and is pursuing graduate studies in aerospace engineering. She will be applying for Ph.D. programs and a fellowship through the NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities program so that she can continue her work, as well as discover new space-related research opportunities. She would like to focus on improving and developing RTG and radioisotope electric propulsion systems for deep-space and subsurface exploration missions.

Awards Received

  • 2022 NationalFinalist
  • 2022 NationalWinner
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