ARLINGTON — Jennifer Domanowski remembers her high school astronomy teacher suggesting she work at NASA.
She laughed. That’s never going to happen, she thought.
Now, the 23-year-old has a job lined up at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. She’ll perform chemical and thermal analysis of the materials used for spacecraft and equipment. Her work is expected to help the Europa mission, which would send instruments into space to investigate whether Jupiter’s icy moon harbors conditions suitable for life.
Domanowski graduated from Arlington High School in 2012. She’s set to finish a bachelors degree in materials science and engineering and a certificate in Korean from Boise State University on May 6.
“Everything is made up of something,” she said. “I really love materials science because you can go into any field. It combines physics, chemistry and math into one thing, and you can apply it to everyday life.”
She recently was recognized by Aviation Week and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics as one of the top 20 young aerospace leaders in the world. She attended the Laureate Awards, which she describes as the Academy Awards of aerospace, March 2 in Washington, D.C.
Domanowski interned at NASA the last four summers and one spring term. She worked at the Glenn Research Center in Ohio, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
In one project, she experimented with aerogels, extremely light gels that are heat resistant. She tested different composites by combining them with other substances.
“I was trying to figure out what materials would be best to keep it flexible and strong while still maintaining those insulator properties,” she said.
Her work is meant to create a protective coating for spacecraft reentering the atmosphere, and could be used to make wildland firefighting shelters.
She’s also studied a lubricant for telescope parts, a thin carbon material that could be used to reduce friction in rocket engines, and outgassing of materials that can be damaging to spacecraft. The outgassing project could help at the Smithsonian, as well, where some artifacts emit gases that cloud display cases.
“I love NASA,” Domanowski said. “We develop all this technology for exploring deep space, and it’s this unknown out there. But then we can turn around and apply it in our daily lives.”
Jennifer Domanowski is one of three daughters. Her dad, Michael, works at Boeing. Her mom, Chong, runs the household. Chong immigrated from South Korea and Jennifer decided to study Korean as a way to connect with her heritage.
Jennifer’s twin sister, Michelle, also has been a stand-out student, though her passion veers toward art rather than science. She graduated last spring from Cornish College of the Arts. She’s now applying to graduate schools, where she hopes to pursue screenwriting.
People note that the twins seem so different, one an engineer and the other a writer and artist.
“Art and science probably seem different at first, but I think they’re more similar than people realize,” Michelle Domanowski said. “They’re both creative fields and they both require experimenting with new ideas.”
She’s proud of her twin. The sisters knew what directions they were headed in college, but not the exact paths they would take, she said. She’s glad Jennifer has done so well.
The youngest Domanowski sister, Christina, is ready to graduate from Arlington High School in June. The 18-year-old is bound for the U.S. Naval Academy. She wants to study mechanical engineering.
“Just to make some advances in the field could be very inspiring not only to the community, but to young girls,” she said.
Christina Domanowski said her family has been her inspiration. Seeing Jennifer push herself as an engineer has set high standards for Christina to aspire to, she said.
“She is always able to learn from whatever she does,” she said.
Jennifer Domanowski was recruited to Boise State as a swimmer. It was exciting, but she didn’t know where to go from there. For a long time, she wanted a career in the medical field. Then she realized she doesn’t like blood. NASA was something she’d never dreamed of, and the opportunity to work there still amazes her.
While her family is proud of Jennifer for the international engineering award and the new gig at NASA, she’s just as proud of her sisters. There’s a lot of excitement in the Domanowski household.
“We’re a handful,” she said.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.