GREENCASTLE, Pa. — At the age of 12, Abigail Marconi might be too young to be a rocket scientist.
But give her a few years, and it could be her career of choice.
The seventh-grader at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School recently spent a week as a participant in NASA’s SISTER program — the Summer Institute of Science, Technology, Engineering and Research.
Held each year at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the purpose of the five-day program is to provide opportunities for middle school girls to explore nontraditional career fields while working with research scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
Limited to 30 girls, Abigail said she applied for a spot in the program in mid-April.
She was notified of her acceptance at the end of May and attended the program from July 18 through 22.
Abigail said science is one of her favorite subjects in school.
“My interest got sparked in the fourth grade when I had a great teacher who got me excited with neat classroom experiments using electricity, magnets and more,” she said. “Ever since then, I’ve continued my love for science.”
Abigail said she became aware of the SISTER program two summers ago when her family visited the NASA Goddard Space Visitor’s Center.
“We saw information about the SISTER program, which is designed for seventh- and eighth-graders who have an interest in science and math,” she said. “I was too young at the time, but my parents saved the information and, this year, I applied.”
Abigail said the application included a letter of recommendation from her science teacher.
She also had to write a short essay about what type of experiment she would conduct if she had any materials she wanted at her disposal.
“I wrote about how I would like to research the gravitational pull of planets to learn how we could use that for space travel in the future,” she said.
Throughout her week at Goddard, Abigail said participants had a chance to meet and work with some of the top professionals in the field of science.
“We also had the opportunity to see NASA headquarters and inside some of the labs,” she said. “The whole week was fascinating. But some of my favorite activities were experimenting with liquid nitrogen, building rockets and learning about the James Webb Space Telescope.”
With the liquid nitrogen activities, Abigail said the students experimented with freezing a variety of objects.
“At one point, we poured milk, mashed up strawberries and sugar into a bowl and poured liquid nitrogen over it to make liquid nitrogen ice cream. “We all got to try some and it was pretty good.”
Building rockets was probably the most difficult activity, Abigail said.
“A rocket scientist came and helped us build the engines for the rockets. We also had to insert a parachute inside the rocket and figure out how to make it pop out at the highest point without catching fire so that the rocket could land safely,” she explained. “Later in the week, we got to launch each of our rockets in a field.”
Abigail said the students learned a great deal about the James Webb Space Telescope.
“It is a telescope they are building now to replace the Hubble,” she said. “They expect to launch it in 2018. We got to go into the lab and see them building a part of the telescope. It was neat to see the scientists working. It looked like something from a futuristic science fiction movie. Everyone was wearing white puffy suits to keep the equipment clean and they all wore masks so they wouldn’t breathe on the equipment.”
While she learned a great deal at the summer program, Abigail said she also enjoyed meeting girls from all different parts of the country.
“I made friends with girls from Florida, Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire,” she said. “After working together for a few days, we got to know each other well. There are a couple of girls that I have stayed in contact with.”
Abigail said she isn’t sure what the future will hold, career-wise, but she’s definitely interested in the fields of science and math.
“I’m still exploring what I may want to do when I get older,” she shared. “Some careers I’ve considered are astronomy and biology research. But I also have a strong interest in music and have considered that as a career.”
Regardless of which path she chooses, Abigail said she’ll never forget the NASA SISTER camp.
“I had such a great experience,” she said.