Interest in middle school science develops into materials engineering career

Sarah Grunsfeld, 23, materials and process engineer at Ball Aerospace

Sarah Grunsfeld became enamored with science in middle school. While culturing bacteria found in and around her home in Seabrook, Texas, for a science fair project, Grunsfeld became fascinated with the environment’s impact on organisms. She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining Ball Aerospace in Colorado. At Ball, Grunsfeld helps develop and evaluate new materials and contributes to programs including the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite on NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System, the latest generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites.

Landing a job

Through a variety of internships, including analyzing amino acids in meteorites at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and growing viruses and templating nanoparticles for catalyst reactions at MIT’s Belcher Biomolecular Materials Lab, I realized that I was interested in understanding and improving materials to expand upon what biology and evolution have made possible. I did an internship at HRL Laboratories, a research center in Malibu, California, where I had the opportunity to develop 3D-printed ceramics for aerospace applications. It is incredible how the underlying molecular structures of the materials around us can be combined and organized in ways that allow us to create materials that can survive the ordeal of traveling multiple times faster than the speed of sound, or materials that allow us to create synthetic bones for highly tailorable medicine. I completed my undergraduate degree in materials science and engineering at MIT with a focus on additive manufacturing and how it can improve material properties and the overall functioning of engineered parts. All facets of engineering are inherently limited by materials. If we can improve those materials, or in some cases develop entirely new materials and advance their processing, we can reach beyond the current capabilities in any industry.

From laboratory to Joint Polar Satellite System

As a materials and process engineer, I work on a variety of different programs, supporting both the defense and space industries. I split my time between developing and evaluating new materials in the laboratory, supporting the advanced Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite, supporting internal research to implement novel additive manufacturing technologies on current and future programs, and assessing how additive will impact the aerospace industry in the future.

Space in 2050

I foresee additive manufacturing becoming a large part of the aerospace industry, enabling us to build parts that are currently unachievable with traditional manufacturing technologies and allowing us to innovate at the concept phase and increase part functionality. New, stronger and more capable 3D-printed metals and even 3D-printed ceramics will dominate the market, allowing us to pursue science to further understand our own planet, solar system and beyond. Software will aid with intelligent data-driven designs and integration of multicomponent systems, eventually leading to machine learning algorithms that can optimize the materials and designs for next-generation aerospace systems.

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Interest in middle school science develops into materials engineering career