12 June, 2017
A Gadsden State Community College instructor is participating in a project at one of the world’s most innovative research facilities in the country: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The prestigious laboratory implements programs in planetary exploration, earth science, space-based astronomy and technology development while applying its capabilities to technical and scientific problems of national significance.
Audrey Webb, an instructor and division chair for Engineering Technologies-Calhoun, has been selected as a Faculty Fellow at the JPL this summer. She reported to JPL June 5 and will serve a 10-week fellowship.
“It’s such an honor,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed with excitement. I’ve wanted to do projects like this since someone from NASA visited my school when I was in the first grade. This has been a dream come true.”
Webb’s project focuses on the Spacecraft Atmosphere Monitoring (SAM) system.
“I’m working with the electronics on the miniature gas chromatograph and the mass spectrometer,” she said. “They are components in the SAM that test for traces of volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere for present and future spacecraft. Specifically, the components test oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other compounds.”
Her goal is to identify possible new components, test them in the atmospheric chamber, program the components and integrate to the SAM.
“Because everything is smaller and faster, we have to make sure SAM has smaller electronics with less power consumption at a lower cost,” she said. “It’s smaller and not as heavy to put on a rocket, and it’s more cost-effective. I’m really excited about being involved in this project.”
Webb qualified for the fellowship due to her education and experience. She earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a master’s degree in engineering from Mississippi State University. She worked for several years as an engineer in two manufacturing facilities before becoming an instructor at Gadsden State six years ago. She is based at the College’s Ayers Campus in Anniston.
“Being able to do engineering in the field again is a wonderful gift,” she said. “I’m able to get a fresh new prospective that I can take to the classroom. I can’t wait to tell my students all about the new technology I’m working with. It’s cutting edge technology created by NASA.”
Though this is the first time Webb has been named a Faculty Fellow, she has done JPL projects in the past with her students, including a 2013 project testing organic compounds using water vapor.
“We have had several students who have interned at JPL as well,” she said. “For the SAM project, they wanted someone with an engineering background who can work with electronics. Our students have always done a great job but they needed someone with more experience for this particular project.”
In addition to the research and project work, Webb will also attend lectures by renowned scientists and visit the Goldstone Observatory in the Mojave Desert. The observatory’s complex includes satellites used to track and communicate with space missions.
“I’m so proud to be able to participate in this fellowship,” Webb said. “I plan to take advantage of everything offered this summer. It’s going to make me a better engineer and an even better educator.”