Johnson Space Center

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Augsburg research opportunity leads to the Johnson Space Center

Brian Bue, a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, with a B.S. in computer science (CS) and a B.A. in mathematics, feels that going to Augsburg afforded him some interesting opportunities he may have overlooked if he had attended a larger university.

Bue recently finished an internship with the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and is now starting his Ph.D. work at Purdue University.

“I was fortunate to work closely with several faculty members at Augsburg on undergraduate research projects. Everyone in the computer science and math departments had some role in helping me choose the direction I’m on now. Also, my research advisors, Karen Sutherland and Noel Petit from the computer science department, and Mark Engebretson from the physics department, were particularly influential. If I wouldn’t have started doing research with them, I probably wouldn’t have made the decision to go on and continue on the research track in grad school and afterwards.”

Bue’s internship with the Lunar and Planetary Institute involved his working in the field know as “Computational Geomorphology.” His project was to implement an algorithm to automatically generate maps of Martian terrain. According to Bue, NASA has gathered millions of measurements of Martian terrain using an instrument know as the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter.

“Currently, it’s a painstaking process to create these maps, since the majority of the work is done manually by analyzing images of the Martian surface. I helped develop a technique to have a computer automatically determine features of the Martian terrain, and create maps from that information.”

Bue initially heard of this internship when browsing tech-interns.com. He applied for it online and was contacted by one of the staff scientists who believed his background in CS/math would be of use to the advisor. The majority of the interns, Bue said, had backgrounds in geology or physics. He was actually the only CS/math intern. “However,” Bue added, “I believe my interdisciplinary research with the CS/math department at Augsburg may have played a role in their decision to select me.”

While Bue is currently focusing on his graduate coursework at Purdue, he hopes to find another summer internship, possibly, and hopefully, he added, with NASA. After he receives his Ph.D. he plans to continue doing research either in academia or in a private lab.