College of Science

Mary Wakefield

Mary Wakefield

Mary is a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science at CSU San Marcos with a special interest in planetary science. For the 2013 summer, she worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) calibrating and archiving infrared images of Saturn in order to study Saturn’s deep atmospheric properties. This was sponsored by the CAMPARE program. Mary hopes to eventually start a career as a systems engineer at JPL and work on a project involving planetary or space studies.

Wakefield at JPL

During the summer of 2013, I had the amazing opportunity to work in the Planetary Atmospheres division at JPL under the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Glenn Orton. My project goal was to prepare and calibrate infrared images of Saturn for use in an upcoming publication written by my mentor, as well as to discover more about the atmosphere of Saturn.

My favorite aspect of the project was writing a generalized program for data archiving in order to prepare files for submission to the Planetary Data System, a NASA-wide data archiving facility. Although I am a strong programmer, I had never programmed using Interactive Data Language (IDL). I had no idea what half the data I had to archive was which caused me to struggle in the beginning of my internship. Initially, I was overwhelmed and lost, but the 5 other interns under my mentor as well as mymentor were very helpful with providing missing knowledge. This task was definitely a challenge but I am proud of the final result and I appreciate the learning push that my peers and mentor gave me. This was my favorite task because it required involvement with my fellow interns and was challenging. In addition to working, JPL and Caltech provided a lot of chances to explore and toget involved in science. I went on three tours while at JPL: Mysteries and Curiosities, Mission Control, and the Laboratory tours. Caltech had weekly activities such as ice cream Mondays, movie Wednesdays, and weekly photo contests. Plus, the researchers were always willing to show off their work.


I absolutely loved my project and valued the variety of tasks I accomplished. These tasks ranged from using my programming skills to write numerous IDL codes to completely learning new physics for atmospheric tracking. Prior to this summer, I never had the opportunity to participate in a research project, and I learned so much valuable information from this experience. This was personally beneficial because it reassured me that I wanted to work as a systems engineer at a company involved with planetary and space exploration.

This summer was so much more than just finishing my project; I discovered the direction I want to pursue after graduation. In addition, I learned how to work in a professional setting and present my findings, I made great connections to the industry, and I met incredible people along the way. Ultimately this summer experience is the highlight of my undergraduate career. I am so lucky to have had this opportunity and I would highly recommend this experience to all undergraduates.