Lawrence high school student conducts Earth research through recent NASA internship

photo by: Contributed Photo

Erik Dallman, a 17-year-old high school senior in Lawrence, stands with a poster of some of the research he conducted during an internship with NASA this summer.

Despite being stuck inside his Lawrence home this summer, a local high school student was still able to take a deep look into his home planet through data.

Erik Dallman, a 17-year-old senior who attends high school through a self-study program, spent his summer participating in a NASA internship where he and other students around the country conducted research using the space research organization’s real Earth data.

Dallman, who has long been interested in space, said the ability to do research with other interns and NASA scientists an awesome experience.

“It was really great to work with people who have the same interests as me and want to go into the same fields as me,” Dallman said. “And just working with NASA scientists was amazing,” he added.

The program, Student Enhancement in Earth and Space Science, or SEES, allowed Dallman to work with an expert on NASA subjects, Dr. Timothy J. Urban from the University of Texas’ Center for Space Research. Dallman and the other interns examined measurements over ice caps, forests, and other areas of the Earth using data from the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellites, also known as ICESat, according to a SEES news release.

The analysis included data visualization, satellite calibration, and comparing measurements of sea ice, land, vegetation, ocean water surfaces and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Dallman said the research was interesting because he didn’t realize how much NASA examined its home planet, as opposed to other things further out in the final frontier of space.

“You always hear about the Apollo missions and the Voyager missions – the ones that go really far out to the moon or go to Mars,” Dallman said. “I didn’t know how much they observe our own Earth.”

Dallman said the purpose of the internship was to provide an opportunity for the students to learn about how NASA works and to expand their horizons in future space exploration and research careers. He said Urban also told him it would help the interns understand if the work is something they really like to do in the future.

For Dallman, that is indeed the case. While the internship program gave him a good introduction to NASA, Dallman said he could see himself work any number of places on similar space exploration projects in the future.

“There are so many companies out there doing (space work) like SpaceX and Boeing,” he said. “NASA is definitely up there to work for, and if I had the opportunity I would totally work for them.”

photo by: Contributed photo

Erik Dallman, center, meets with other student researchers through an online video conference. The student researchers were all part of an internship through NASA, which allowed them to conduct research using real NASA data.

Normally, Dallman would have traveled to Texas to participate in the internship program and tour the NASA facilities. But because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, he and the other interns did their work virtually.

While Dallman said he was disappointed to lose the chance to attend in person, he said attending virtually was still “an amazing experience.” He noted he still got a virtual tour of the NASA facilities and he was still able to work closely with the other interns through online video conferences.

Dallman’s mother, Marisa Dallman, said the internship was somewhat of a dream come true for her son. She said his interest in space has existed since he was young, when he would build rockets and enjoy watching Star Wars. She said she and his father, Kurt Dallman, were “full of joy” the internship allowed him to pursue his interests.

“It solidified his aspiration to go into aerospace engineering, which was, to me, the best outcome of that,” she said.

Dallman attends high school virtually through a self-study program. He also takes concurrent courses which allow him to earn college credits through the University of Kansas.

Dallman said he’s earned about a semester’s worth of credit so far, and he plans to study aerospace engineering after he graduates with his high school diploma this May. Where that may be is not yet decided, but he said KU’s program is near the top of the list.

“I’m still considering my options, but KU is definitely in the top few,” he said.

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