Meet: Tom Glasgow
NASA Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio
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
* 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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