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Meet: Tom Glasgow

a photo of Tom

Materials Scientist
NASA Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio

Chat Archives

Who I Am

Educated as a materials scientist,* I have for many years worked to develop new materials for jet engines and rocket motors. I invented a new rocket engine material, one that better stands up to the 6000 degree F combustion temperature. For the past several years I have helped design experiments and equipment for Space Shuttle microgravity science experiments. I have worked with the scientists who define space experiments, the engineers who design and build the equipment, the mathematicians who model the basic phenomena, and the astronauts who perform the work in space.

* Materials scientists work to improve the basic materials (metals, glasses, ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, wood, etc.) of which all products are made. The technical progress of society may be directly related to the materials it can draw upon. When your best material is rock, you live in the Stone Age and make arrowheads. When you have iron, you can build railroads; with aluminum, you can build airplanes; and with semiconductors, you can build idea-processing machines that extend the minds of all.

My Career Journey

Like many other students I had never heard of Materials Science until I was in college. I tried pre-med, biology, chemistry, and physics as majors before discovering that materials science held a special fascination for me. Basic preparation for this and most other engineering careers involves a four-year program, optionally extended for graduate work. Training, however, is a lifelong process--I'm still a learner after 30 years.

My personal career path has been unusually straightforward. I joined NASA in 1968 and have taken a variety of assignments, including supervisory roles. I have contributed to aircraft and spacecraft technology and to the definition of experiments performed on the Space Shuttle.

Influences

I didn't know anyone in the field of Materials Science before choosing the major. Then one of my favorite professors encouraged me to become active in a professional society. Through the professional society, I do volunteer work, teach, and recycle computers into inter-city schools. And because Materials Science is such a hidden gem, I volunteer through the professional society for high school career days and other student presentations.

Likes/Dislikes about Career

Materials Science is not for the impatient. You might work for years, even decades, to develop a new material. But the new material might enable all sorts of new things, from improved rocket motors to cooler circuit boards. And you can share the new material with the entire world.

Advice

To prepare for any career I recommend enhancing communication skills, especially oral reporting. Add a diverse background including both humanities and the exact sciences and season with intern or co-op positions to taste. Do not believe that you have to make a specific choice and stick to only that. If your background is broad enough, you can easily adjust your direction. One word of caution, however: It is much easier to obtain a good background in math and the sciences in high school than it is to catch up later.

Future Ambitions

Right now I'm working on a new generation of space vehicles to replace the Shuttle. I hope we'll be able to use these plastic spaceships to launch solar power stations--enormous satellites, stretching over miles, that will beam clean energy back to earth. With luck, some of the materials I work on in the next few years will make the power stations more efficient. I also want to go mining on the moon!

Personal Information

I have always liked to read everything, from techno-fiction to romance to current events. As a youth, I worked on our home farm and was active in school clubs and student government. My teachers thought I should become a senator.

When not at work I enjoy drawing, woodworking, and collecting old toys. I also enjoy transferring NASA developments to industry and giving talks to student groups.

Archived Chats with Tom Glasgow
 
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