When Daisy Bower was in third grade, an assignment to design an underwater dome sent her mind racing with possibilities, starting her down a path of math and science she would like to see end at a job as an engineer.
When the 19-year-old 2012 Rockridge High School graduate returned last month from NASA's Space Center in Houston, where she worked on an experiment that might one day end up on the International Space Station, she knew she was still on the right path.
Ms. Bower, a Taylor Ridge resident who is starting her sophomore year as a math and physics double major at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., knew she wanted to be an engineer after that third-grade underwater dome project.
"Something just clicked," she said. "I kind of went ape on it. I designed all kinds of tubes to the surface so my people could breathe. I had systems inside systems. I just loved it, the problem solving, how every little piece of it worked together. I knew right then I wanted to be in engineering."
She ended up at the Johnson Space Center with eight other Carthage students and engineers, scientists and astronauts from NASA. From July 25 through Aug. 3, they worked on an experiment to design a new coolant.
"It's called FC-72, and NASA would like to use it on the International Space Station," Ms. Bower said. "The problem is as it absorbs oxygen, it becomes less effective at cooling, so we have to design a way to take the oxygen out of the coolant, and we have to prove the process will work in micro- gravity."
Because the method has to work in micro-gravity, their experiments were done on a modified 727 called the "Weightless Wonder." The plane flies to a certain altitude and then free falls for two miles, creating 15 to 20 seconds of little to no gravity. After free falling, the plane pulls back up, then repeats the free fall. The experiments were conducted in 30 cycles of free falls.
Ms. Bower wasn't on the flight crew; she worked as part of the ground crew, recording data and helping modify the sensors in the experiment.
"One of the things we found out was our sensors weren't reliable in micro-gravity," she said. "We had to make changes in the experiment as it was going on, but it was a successful experiment."
Another college will take up the experiment where the Carthage students left off. The effort is part of the Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program.
Ms. Bower said she picked Carthage because besides the math and science, she wanted to be a better communicator and a better writer. She wants to return to NASA and do additional work on the experiment, possibly even help design the experiments.
"I just know I'm on the right path," Ms. Bower said. "And I feel pretty good for where I am at."