JOHN DAY – A recent visit from Grant Union High School alumnus Brandon Smith gave some local students a glimpse at how what they are learning today could apply to their future.
The 1997 Grant Union grad, now a chemical engineer, visited with students Oct. 29 in the chemistry class taught by his mother, Sonna Smith. Matt Jones’ physics class also attended the presentation.
Brandon Smith also visited students in Georgia Boethin’s fifth-grade science class at Humbolt Elementary School the next day.
Smith is part of the team at Creare Inc., an engineering research and development firm in Hanover, N.H., that created a small, but important, piece of equipment for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity.
He showed the students pictures of the rover and the equipment onboard designed to help scientists determine if there is – or ever was – life on the red planet. He also played the online video “7 Minutes of Terror” for the students which shows the obstacles scientists faced getting the rover to land safely and with perfect timing.
Creare’s hand in the project came when NASA asked if they could develop a vacuum pump small enough to fit in a metal box the size of a microwave.
The vacuum gathers soil and other samples which are then analyzed by other instruments.
“We said we could do it, and we did,” Smith said.
The result was a vacuum pump the size of two D batteries which spins at 200,000 rotations per minute.
After the presentation, Smith opened up the time for questions.
His former teacher, Jones, asked which class was most important to him as he was working toward his career. Smith replied that his college physical chemistry class helped him discover varied ways to look at and solve problems; other helpful classes were physics, chemistry and calculus.
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Willamette University in Salem and a doctorate in physical chemistry from Dartmouth College in Hanover.
He told the students that at times, he’s found himself referring to a high school trigonometry book for answers.
“When I was in your position, I didn’t think I would be sending something to Mars,” he said. “I had no idea.”
Smith shared some suggestions for success.
“Do as well as you can, wherever you are,” he said. “You never know where the next opportunity may come from. Whether English, math or science, do your best, then you’ll be prepared for whatever may come your way.”
He said that growing up, he worked on ranches and gathered and split wood with his dad.
“Be a hard worker – people recognize hard workers and give you opportunities,” he said. “Be reliable, be on time, be someone that others can really count on.”
FYI: NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity left Earth in November 2011, traveling 354 million miles at speeds of about 13,000 mph, and landed on Mars Aug. 5, 2012. Three goals of the mission are to: determine the nature and abundance of organic carbon compounds that could indicate biological potential; characterize the geology on a large scale and micro scale; and determine habitability. Smith noted that data analyzed by NASA so far indicates that there is not nearly as much methane as was originally thought to be on Mars.Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.