Laser Focus: KSU Student Lands NASA Internship

A prestigious internship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, is helping a Kansas State University student achieve her career goals. 

Sarah Lamm, master’s student in geology from Colby, began her remote internship in April with the Origins and Habitability Lab at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the InVADER — In-situ Vent Analysis Divebot for Exobiology Research — project.  She is conducting data analysis of laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, or LIBS, and Raman laser data collection experiments on hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. The collected data helps to determine mineral compositions relevant to life on Mars and ocean floors.

“The Raman technique is what I am using right now in my master’s degree research at K-State,” Lamm said. “I also have experience on the LIBS from my previous internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory. I already knew how those lasers worked, so I was able to jump right in.”

At K-State, Lamm’s research focuses on developing a Raman laser calibration method to determine the chemical composition of chlorite minerals. Chlorite is found in many geologic environments and forms with different chemical compositions depending on the physical and chemical conditions at the time of formation. For planetary scientists, accurate chemical composition of chlorite minerals helps to better understand the environment of other planets.

Lamm’s dream career is to work for NASA as an astronaut or on one of its mission as a project scientist. Lamm says she takes advantage of any opportunity or connection she makes to reach her goals.

“There are a lot of opportunities available at K-State if you are willing to seek them out,” Lamm said. “The best way to elevate yourself is to get involved in the community or get involved in undergraduate research or internships. Those are the communities you will fall back on.”

Lamm, who earned bachelor’s degrees in geology, chemistry and geography from K-State in 2018, credits her success to being creative and organized and to the support of her K-State advisors and professors.

“They always had my back and were very supportive of my ideas,” she said. “They would normally do what they could to find a valid solution to my problem. It was nice that I had their support.”

Lamm understands it is difficult for some students to take risks and that rejection is hard. She wants younger students to know that she has also experienced rejection, but she still applies for every scholarship, award or opportunity if she has the qualifications.

“I’m a pretty bold person, and I will just ask for what I want,” Lamm said. “The worst that they can say is no.”

Lamm has earned many honors and awards in her academic career. In 2020 she received the K-State Student Science Communication Award and the Association for Women Geoscientists Service Award. Other accolades include The Mars Generation 24 Under 24 Leaders and Innovators in STEAM and Space, NASA Solar System Ambassador and NASA Group Achievement Award. Lamm’s previous internships were with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Geological Society of America. She also has given 19 professional presentations and invited talks and written nine conference abstracts.

Lamm will complete her master’s degree in August and then will continue her doctorate studies in planetary sciences at the University of Kansas in the fall.

Read more about Lamm and her research on Mars is included in the spring 2021 issue of Seek magazine, available online.