Senior year is memorable for high schoolers, full of prom and graduation milestones they will carry for a long time. Hailey Marbibi has another unique memory to add to her list. The Georgetown HS senior spent part of her summer researching mosquitoes, to help prevent life-threatening diseases, during an internship with NASA at the University of Texas at Austin.
Hailey was one of 100 “mosquito mappers” chosen nationally to study mosquito samples over ten weeks, to contribute to NASA’s understanding of the scientific world and its mosquito population. The internship was part of NASA’s Student Enhancement in Earth and Space Science program at UT’s Center for Space Research.
Hailey, who has been interested in engineering since sixth grade, was encouraged by her school mentor, Terri Henry, to apply for the internship. After the pandemic hit, her internship went virtual, and she began analyzing data in her own backyard. She collected algae and decomposing matter from the San Gabriel River and placed the samples in mosquito traps to learn how ecological aspects of a mosquito’s habitat affected the insects in the larval stages.
One of her favorite parts was being able to do field work with variables beyond her control outside of school research labs with controlled variables. On top of that, she got to work with real-world science. “Vector-borne diseases have been an ongoing issue. Getting to help develop the group project that deals with using remote sensing data to predict when mosquito populations will increase was an amazing opportunity to really impact something bigger than me,” she says.
The mosquito mappers’ data will help draw associations between weather patterns, how they may swing the mosquito population, and create potential for disease spikes.
The overall goal of the project, she adds, was to find data that would help decrease incidences of diseases like West Nile and Zika viruses and malaria. “Mosquitoes provide significant data we can look at and try to prevent these diseases that have taken so many lives,” Hailey says. “When you’re looking at how [the project] can impact people, it’s amazing.”
Another impact of her project was the connections she made with fellow mosquito mappers. “I got to make some great friends who have the same passions; the same love for science that I do,” she says. That love for science grew out of her desire to understand the natural world because, as she says, it is human nature to ask questions and try to find answers. “It gives you a greater appreciation and understanding of the natural world and how it has developed.”
Hailey hopes to use her internship as a stepping stone to fulfill a long-time dream of working at NASA, researching Mars and the outer solar system to find ways to reduce greenhouse gases and switch to alternative energy sources.