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Lauren Fletcher
Lauren Fletcher

Design Engineer
Biological Sciences
NASA Ames Research Center

Who I Am and What I Do
I am a design engineer for equipment needed for biological sciences. I am currently working as an environmental microbiologist in the hyper-arid deserts of Peru and Chile in order to gain a better understanding of how and where the scientists look for life. My goal is to take that knowledge and design new methods and technologies which can be sent to our neighboring planets to help try to answer two of our most fundamental questions: “Is there life outside of our planet?” and, “Does it look (biologically) like us?”

Areas of expertise
Biological Sciences, General Engineering (Electrical, Mechanical, Thermal, Electronics, etc.), Physics, Mathematics, Environmental Engineering and Sciences, Planetary Sciences.

What helped prepare me for this job
An insatiable curiosity, willingness to work hard (and sometimes for free), not being afraid to learn something new, and really believing in the value of these projects for the greater good of humanity.

My education and training
I have a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Nevada, Reno. This is a combined degree in Physics and Electrical Engineering. Additionally I studied Computer Science, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, and Journalism. This gave me a very wide course of study that provided the foundation to be able to understand many areas on a general level. I’ve also completed half of a Masters degree at Stanford University studying Mechanical Engineering and Medical Sciences. My background in environmental engineering and sciences has come from working with many talented Ph.D. microbiologists and reading everything I can on the subject. I most likely will complete a Masters in Environmental Engineering and Sciences and continue with a Ph.D.

My career path
I started as an undergraduate intern at Johnson Space Center in Houston working on tool design for the Astronauts to use in space and with Astronaut training. After graduation, I became the manager of the Lighting and Environment Test Facility where I was responsible for designing and testing lighting systems for the Shuttle and International Space Station programs. After a year of that position, I moved to Ames Research Center in California where I was responsible for the design of some of the hardware and qualification of all of the hardware for the Space Shuttle Flight STS-90, which was a flight dedicated to Space Life Sciences Research. After that flight, I became the lead systems engineer for the Space Station Biological Research Project in which I was responsible for ensuring that all of the hardware designed for this project would connect properly with Space Station (such as connections for mechanical, thermal cooling, electrical and power, and communications). For several years I worked concurrently at Stanford University on microbiological detection systems and for the last three years I have worked in environmental microbiology and life-detection technologies for the “Life in the Atacama” project.

What I like about my job
The best things about my job are that I get to work with many talented people from around the world, I get to work in the field in many interesting places, I get to do the work myself in the laboratory, I get to explore the world around us, that there is so much to learn and understand that you can pretty much do anything you want, and I get the satisfaction that my work is for the greater good of humanity.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
First of all, you don’t have to be the best student in the class (though the harder you study, the better off you will be) and you don’t have to know today what you want to do with the rest of your life. If you have an interest, read everything you can about it, but don’t stop with reading, figure out a way to do part of it right now. Don’t wait! Find somebody who does what you want to do (or things like what you want to do) and ask them if you can spend time working for them. If they say, “No,” keep asking people until you find somebody who says, “Yes.” Never ever take “No” for an answer. I’ve always found that if you are curious, enthusiastic, and willing to work hard (and sometimes for free), that you will find somebody to say, “Yes.” And if you still can’t find somebody to say, “Yes”, do it anyway. There are always science and engineering fairs. Follow this path and you will find yourself doing what you want to do and what you like to do.

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Editor: Brian Day
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated:June, 2006
Students Contact: Jennifer Heldmann
Teachers Contact: Liza Coe