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Recent grad completes prestigious NASA internship


Kelly Kwan receives her NSBRI Summer Internship certificate of completion from NSBRI Director Dr. Jeffrey P. Sutton.

  • November 3, 2011

Recent Cal State East Bay graduate Kelly Kwan was one of 19 students nationwide chosen for a summer internship through the 2011 National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) funded by NASA.

“[The internship] allowed me to gain a lot of independence in science,” said Kwan.  “I was allowed to pursue projects that I was interested in and had a lot of say in what was going on.”         

Approximately 150 students, including the summer class of interns, have participated in the highly competitive program since it started in 1998.

The summer internship gives participants an opportunity to spend 10 weeks in laboratories at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland or Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View.

Kwan who graduated in June 2011 with a master's degree in biology and an emphasis on microbiology, is currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of Southern California. Kwan’s mentor, CSUEB biological sciences Professor Kenneth Curr, speaks highly of Kwan and expects great things from her in the future.

“The fact that Kelly was accepted for the NSBRI Summer Internship Program, again does not surprise me, but does my heart good to know that she continues to be one of the brightest stars in the academic sky.

“I no longer see Kelly as my student, but a colleague whom I miss very much, but will enjoy seeing her blossom into a very gifted scientist,” said Curr.

Prior to her internship with the NSBRI, Kwan participated in a fellowship for the Jet Propulsion Lab of NASA in Pasadena where she worked on microbial diversity in spacecraft assembly, which refers to the assessment of microbes in NASA’s spacecraft clean-room facilities. It was there that Kwan first realized her passion for space biology. 

Hoping to build on her expertise, Kwan applied for the NSBRI Summer Internship Program.

“I was looking for an opportunity and great experience where I could further my exposure to space life sciences,” said Kwan.

“The NSBRI Summer Internship Program allows talented students to receive first-hand knowledge about research for long-duration spaceflight,” Jeffrey P. Sutton, the institute's director, said in a recent NSBRI news release.  “The experience gained during the summer will be beneficial to the interns as they become the next generation of scientists, engineers and physicians.”

NSBRI programs focus on space health issues including bone and muscle loss, cardiovascular changes, radiation exposure, neurobehavioral and psychosocial factors, remote medical care and research, and performance issues.

During her NSBRI internship, Kwan underwent one week of bioastronautics, an introduction to space science, and nine weeks at the world-renowned Johnson Space Center where she studied microbiology.

Of the 19 interns, Kwan was the only one to participate in the microbiology group for the length of the internship.

“I learned that there are a lot of opportunities for biologists in this type of research,” said Kwan.  “It’s exciting to see that after I complete my Ph.D., there is an opportunity for me at NASA.”

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