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Aerospace junior receives Astronaut Scholar award

By Virginia Speirs

Margaret “Maggie” Nelson, junior in aerospace engineering, reaches for the stars. Literally and figuratively. 

As an aerospace engineering student, Nelson has always loved the idea of being an astronaut. She has another passion, however: sustainability. At Auburn, she has found a way to combine the two. When she’s not in class, Nelson is in the Gavin Research Laboratory for at least 35 hours a week, pursuing research on the recyclability of shape memory polymers using polystyrene from old CD cases. 

“I was the ‘space kid’ growing up,” Nelson recalled. “I’ve always felt that this was the one thing I was really interested in. My big sister, who is also an Auburn engineer, first introduced me to sustainability. I figured I would be able to incorporate sustainability into aerospace, and I knew that was what I wanted to do moving forward.” 

Nelson’s hope is that, if her research is successful, recycled polystyrene will be a sustainable option for aerospace applications such as low-volume injection molds and integrated actuators that assist in the transport and deployment of satellites, she wrote in her personal statement. 

Nelson was recently selected for the Astronaut Scholar Award by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. The award includes a paid trip to Orlando, Florida for the Innovators Gala; an opportunity to present her research at the Scholar Technical Conference; personal mentoring by a scholar alumni, C-suite executive or an astronaut; an opportunity to participate in the Michael Collins Family Professional Development Program; and membership in the Astronaut Scholar Honor Society. Additionally, Nelson will have the opportunity to receive a scholarship of up to $15,000. 

“Receiving the award was definitely reaffirming,” Nelson said. “Engineering can be hard and it’s easy to get caught up in the little details and not see the big picture, so it definitely reaffirmed that I was on the right path.” 

Nelson has been conducting her research under the guidance of Russell Mailen, assistant professor of aerospace engineering.