#GINNING Podcast: Aerospace junior receives astronaut scholar award

By Virginia Speirs

Published: Jul 13, 2021 11:33:00 AM

Maggie Nelson Maggie Nelson

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.

“Maggie started working with my research group last fall, and she immediately demonstrated an incredible potential to conduct transformative research,” Mailen said. “Her passion for sustainable engineering practices led her to quickly immerse herself in a project related to recycling of polymers. She is a quick learner and a hard worker, and I am so proud to see her receive this award.”

Nelson said that she is thankful for the opportunity to represent and support Auburn in this way, just as Auburn has supported her in all that she has accomplished so far.

“I’ve been able to actually meet with my professors and my mentors so often, I feel like I could consider them friends,” Nelson said. “They have done so much for me, like making time for me when I need help with my research. Through them, I’ve felt that Auburn has really supported me, and I want to go out there and show those people that I support them, too.”

Although she enjoys her time in the research lab now, Nelson said that if, one day, she was offered the opportunity to go to space, she couldn’t refuse.

“It’s not the end goal,” Nelson said. “But if the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no. When I was a little kid, I told everybody I wanted to be an astronaut.”

To learn more about Nelson, listen to her on the latest episode of the award-winning #GINNing Podcast. Listen below or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts by searching #GINNing. 

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

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