Launched into Space
Becoming a rocket scientist at UNH makes for an interesting ride.

It's a warm wednesday night in june and Lynette Gelinas is waiting for her turn in front of the microphone at Biddy Mulligan's, a well-worn Irish bar in an old mill in downtown Dover, N.H. It's open mike night, and Gelinas, who received her Ph.D. in physics from UNH in May, has been coming here nearly every Wednesday for a year to play her guitar, and to sing a variety of folk, country and blues songs. Tonight, she's going to try out Hal Ketchum's "Small Town Saturday Night."

Small town Saturday night: Lynette Gelinas sings at Biddy Mulligan's.

There's an Elvis movie on the marquee sign
We've all seen at least three times
Everybody's broke, Bobby's got a buck
To put a dollar's worth of gas in his pickup truck.

We're going 90 miles an hour down a dead-end road
What's the hurry, son . . . where you gonna go?
We're gonna howl at the moon, shoot out the light
It's a small town Saturday night.

She's been playing guitar since high school, but the singing part is new. "My parents came for graduation, and I brought them here—they'd never heard me sing before," she says. "They couldn't believe it. They got to hear me sing, and saw me shake Al Gore's hand, all in the same weekend."

"It was a big weekend," she adds, laughing.

The guy sitting at the next table, a friend of a friend, has heard that she's moving to upstate New York, that she got a job at Cornell.

"What are you gonna be doing?" he asks.

She hesitates, and then blurts out, "I'm a rocket scientist."

"Oh yeah, so am I," he smirks, "and so is Curt here. We're all rocket scientists. The guy at the bar is a brain surgeon."

After 11 years at UNH, Lynette Gelinas is ready to move on. There really is a job at Cornell, a post-doctoral position where she will teach an advanced level space engineering course and work on various rocket projects. She insists that she was lucky to get the job, but Kristina Lynch '90G, '92G, associate research professor of physics at UNH and Gelinas's mentor, says Gelinas was offered three jobs without even applying for them, and Mike Kelley, her new boss at Cornell, says, "She's the best young experimental space physicist I have seen for a long time."

Kelley, engineering professor and associate dean for professional development at Cornell, wrote the book, literally, on plasma physics. His textbook, The Earth's Ionosphere: Plasma Physics and Electrodynamics, published in 1989, is a standard in the field. He was also the principal investigator on the SAL (Sudden Atom Layers) rocket project that carried Gelinas's detector to measure meteor dust, and Gelinas considers him a mentor as well.

Kelley feels like he's the lucky one. He points out that Gelinas helped him analyze the data from the SAL rocket project, and published results from the dust detector data. As a graduate student, she was invited to present a paper at an American Geophysical Union meeting, which Kelley says is very rare. "Basically, I think she's terrific," he says.

The space science community is small, and there is a lot of collaboration between university programs, so it is not unusual to have one space science program build a rocket that will carry experiments built by other space science programs into space. As Lynch says, "We all travel a lot."

Gelinas has been to the Netherlands and Puerto Rico on business, and, if you have a few minutes, she will tell you a long and very funny story about the International Dusty Plasma Conference that was held in Goa, outside Bombay, India. "The brand new hotel that was supposed to host the conference wasn't finished because of the monsoons, so it was held in a collection of beach huts," she says. "They kept losing electricity, so we'd be reading papers and the lights would be flickering. And for the poster session, we had to nail our research to palm trees."

Page: 1 2 3 4 Next>

 Easy to print version

blog comments powered by Disqus