Graduate Student Nicole Herrmann Wins NASA Research Fellowship
Nicole Herrmann, Elliott School graduate student and recipient of a NASA research fellowship
With the support of a NASA research fellowship, Elliott School graduate student Nicole Herrmann will study how the public can contribute to the NASA mission, a subject known as "participatory exploration."
An example of participatory exploration is a 2000 project by NASA that used public volunteers (nicknamed "clickworkers") to count craters on celestial bodies, a task that requires human perception and common sense, but not much scientific training. By "crowdsourcing" tasks such as this to many people, scientists at NASA could aggregate the information into a format useful to researchers.
"Successful participatory exploration programs will allow the public to feel like they have played an integral role in achieving NASA's mission goals, and NASA will be able to attract citizen scientists to engage in solving some of the agency's toughest challenges," said Herrmann, who is studying science, technology, and public policy at GW. "Establishing best practices for these activities will provide a framework for NASA to develop and implement effective participatory exploration programs in the future."
In her research, Herrmann intends to identify metrics for evaluating participatory exploration programs, best practices, and activities that are most effective in supporting NASA's strategic plan. Herrmann, who began as an intern in NASA's Office of External Relations in August 2007 and has been supporting field test activities and participatory exploration programs since summer 2008, will work at the NASA headquarters throughout the summer to develop a research plan. At the end of August, she will travel to Black Point Lava Flow, AZ, to collect qualitative data based on participant experiences at field tests.
Scott Pace, director of GW's Space Policy Institute, will serve as Herrmann's faculty advisor and will assist Herrmann in shaping her research plan as well as in the analysis of her data. Pace said, "The topic of participatory exploration is an interesting cross-disciplinary field that creates opportunities for the wider public to contribute to international space cooperation and research, not only in the U.S., but overseas as well."
Pace described how student research such as Herrmann's contributes to strengthening the Elliott School's research reputation. "Nicole's success in winning a competitive NASA grant…is a great example of the real-world research opportunities available at the Elliott School."
The NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP) is an agency-wide fellowship program for graduate study leading to master's or doctoral degrees in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering related to NASA research and development.