While lots people will fly on a plane at some point in their lives, not many will actually get a firsthand glimpse at the techniques that go into ensuring that they’ll actually stay up in the air. Alyssa Sherman ’18, however, is one of the lucky few.
This summer, the chemistry major is interning with the aerospace engineering company Boeing in North Carolina, working for the International Space Station (ISS) department to develop new technology that will be used to refine the aerodynamic properties of everything from commercial aircraft to NASA space shuttles. Though Sherman, part of Haverford’s 4+1 engineering program with the University of Pennsylvania, will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall to complete her master’s in material engineering, she attributes a large part of her professional success so far to her time at Haverford. “Doing my undergrad work at Haverford in chemistry,” she says, “g[ave] me a strong background in a lot of the underlying properties and theory that most people in materials don’t get.”
Sherman’s typical day at Boeing involves a mixture of laboratory work and results summary. She spends the majority of her time running analyses on samples of machinery that have been sent back from space to ensure that the engineering systems of the spacecraft they’ve been taken from are running smoothly—and will continue to do so. She also has a hand in testing the various types of metals that are considered for use in spacecraft assembly each year to determine which would be the best fit.
“It is much different from being in a lab, as most Haverford students would picture it,” she says. “We don’t do any synthes[es]… [there’s] a lot more properties testing. [We ask questions like,] ‘Is this material going to handle the proper temperatures during launch? Will it burn, burst into flames, or be fire-resistant? What does this material break down into under certain conditions? How much force can I apply to this material before it breaks?’ ”
Though some might be intimidated by the high-stakes nature of this work, Sherman is more excited by the opportunity than anything else.
“I really just want to get a sense of what it looks like to work for a larger company,” she says, as well as “understand how the aerospace industry supports ground-level research efforts, and just understand what the day-to-day [life] of an engineer/scientist looks like working in industry.”
“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.