National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Harkirat Sohi

Harkirat SohiUniversity of Washington
Seattle, WA

  • M.S. in Applied Mathematics, June 2010
  • B.S. in Applied and Computational and Mathematical Sciences, and
  • B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Dec 2008

2012 NASA Glenn Aeronautics Academy:
Operations & Logistic Manager

Hometown: Seattle, WA



“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain

The above quote embodies my view towards life. I wake up each morning, in anticipation of doing something I have never done before, exploring something new and living every day to its fullest. It is to “Explore. Dream. Discover” that I look forward to challenging myself to new, demanding and “out of the box” situations so that I can continue to learn something new and grow as a person, both intellectually and socially.

When I think of NASA, I think of my dreams, my passion to explore and a hope of leaving my mark in science, no matter how small it may be. In a speech in 1962, John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. . .” I believe that one’s true potential comes out in entirety when he/she is challenged to the next level.

Although my studies and career so far have been focused on the math and sciences, my scope has not been limited to just math and science. To me, it is very important to balance my work load with extra-curricular activities and culturally enlightening experiences. As an undergraduate, I led an Indian dance group on my college campus and organized a series of Bollywood movie nights on campus. I also play for the Seattle Women’s Field Hockey. I like to draw and sing and have a great appreciation for people who can play instruments, especially percussion. I love to travel, meet people from diverse backgrounds, learn about their cultures and share mine with them.

Academics/ Career Goals

Space, Mathematics, Biology, Geology. These are the words that get me excited! And my educational and career path so far has been somewhat of a mix of these words. Although this combination of interests does not fit in with a single conventional career, I am constantly open to exploring and finding a career that would allow me to combine my diverse interests and background while I continue to specialize mostly in Mathematics and Biology. My ideal dream job would be to be directly involved in designing and conducting space biology experiments in flight in space.

Recent Experience

In the three years since I was in the Academy program as a Research Assistant in 2009, I have set out to explore both my Mathematics and Biology background and interests in more detail and specialization. During my Masters coursework, I had the opportunity of teaching an Applied Mathematics course “Scientific Computing: Matlab” to undergraduates at the University of Washington for a year. After my Masters graduation in 2010, I became the Calculus instructor for ALVA, a summer program for incoming students doing research in various fields at the University of Washington. I served as the Caluclus instructor for this program for the summers of 2010 and 2011 and came to realize that teaching mathematics is something I truly enjoy and something that was well appreciated by my students.

During my first year after the Masters graduation, I worked as the Lead Academic Youth Supervisor, providing leadership and one-on-one tutoring in mathematics and science to High school students in the City of Seattle’s Academic Support Program designed for students with disadvantaged backgrounds. During my second year, I worked as a Research Scientist in a lab in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology at the University of Washington, where I specialized in plasmid cloning, Adeno Associated Virus tittering by southern blots, Foamy Vector DNA isolation and tittering by qPCR, genomic DNA isolation and other lab techniques for the smooth running of the lab’s projects in gene targeting.

Why I have returned as the Operations & Logistics Manager for NASA Glenn Aeronautics Academy?

Both experiences of teaching mathematics, being involved in educational programs in leadership roles and doing molecular biology research have assured me that I have a passion for asking questions, discovering the unknown, finding creative solutions as well as a newly discovered love for teaching and for advancing educational programs in STEM fields. It is with this assurance, I return to the Academy world, this time as the Operations & Logistics Manager for Glenn’s 2012 Aeronautics Academy.

This will be my third time working at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. My first NASA experience was during fall semester 2008 through the NASA Undergraduate Student Research Program where I worked on a project focused on investing biofuels as an alternative fuel source for aviation. My second project at NASA’s Glenn Research Center was through the NASA Space Academy Program in 2009, during which I worked on the validation of the software backbone of the NASA Digital Astronaut Project. Specifically, I extracted experimental protocol and data from published studies, ran simulations in the Digital Human software and programmed in MATLAB to create quantitative comparison routines for comparing experimental data and the simulation results. I was selected as a NASA Student Ambassador, Cohort II in 2010.

Previous Research Experience

As far as research experience outside of NASA, I was constantly involved in research throughout my undergraduate career at the University of Washington since my freshman year. Some of the projects I worked on include evolving proteins called homing endonucleases to cleave the DNA responsible for making tuberculosis resistant to antibiotics; creating deletions in the human MAPT gene and the PKCγ gene that may play a role in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s; using a Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) PCR test to identify a species of hairy marrons (Cherax ternuimanus, a type of crayfish) that is going extinct in Western Australia; programming in MATLAB to develop and optimize novel methods for approximating the surface area and volume of gliomas, a type of brain tumor; and analyzing RR Lyrae Stars data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) using Supermongo, a plotting and analysis package.

Goals as the Operations & Logistics Manager and beyond

My goals for this summer are to provide strong leadership as the Operations and Logistics Manager for the NASA Glenn Aeronautics Academy by using my skills and experience in mentoring, teaching and managing undergraduates, as well as using my experience from being a former NASA intern to make the 2012 Glenn Aeronautics Academy a great success. I hope to develop a strong mentorship relationship with the Academy interns and serve as an effective liaison between the interns and the Research and Technology Directorate at Glenn. As a previous NASA Glenn Academy intern, I hope to bring back the energy and enthusiasm for the Academy (that I developed as an intern) and make this summer a memorable and positive experience for the interns as well as the NASA Academy staff.

After this summer, I hope to find a job that would allow me to utilize my background in Mathematics/Computing and Biology, ideally at a place like NASA where curiosity and thinking “outside the box” are encouraged to find creative solutions to today’s scientific puzzles. Some of these puzzles may seem impossible to find solutions to but it is our remarkable achievements from the past that assure me that many more are to come. I want to leave my mark and be one of the many people who contribute to these achievements.