Engineering students in space project

Every year, students from LiU’s Media Technology engineering programme get to do their degree project as part of the OpenSpace project. This year, eight of them were at OpenSpace in New York, Washington DC, Utah and Norrköping.

OpenSpace is a project started by researchers at Visualization Center C in Norrköping and other organisations, and is a collaboration between Linköping University, NASA and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Its aim is to visualise the entire known universe. OpenSpace is currently one of the leading software in its category.

Portrait of Kristin Bäck.Kristin Bäck. Photo credit: private.Kristin Bäck and Caroline Gard from the Media Technology programme did their degree project at AMNH in New York. Their work focussed on managing data from NASA and visualising the movements and the position of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. Since March 2012, Curiosity has been studying the surface of Mars, looking for water and any signs of previous life.

“A few years ago we went to a presentation of a degree project from OpenSpace that was about visualisation of the weather in space, and we thought it was a cool project. After that, doing a degree project about space seemed like a dream. Last autumn we applied to OpenSpace and were accepted, which we are really happy about.”

Thus far, the visualisation that Bäck and Gard helped develop has only been implemented for Curiosity. NASA’s latest rover, Insight, will land on Mars in September 2018. The degree projects are an important part of the development of OpenSpace, and the idea is that all degree projects will be added to the project.

“Our project is a good start for the further implementation of visualisations for other rovers. And there are other functions in our project that we didn’t have time to add, but which could help us learn more about how Curiosity has done its job.”

What are your plans, after graduation?
Portrait of Caroline GardCaroline Gard. Photo credit: private.“After summer I’m going to look for work abroad. And later on, I’d like to continue in research, a doctoral position would be great. There are pros and cons to everything, so it’s hard to decide, I’ll see how it goes,” says Caroline Gard.

"This autumn I will start a job as a developer at a company in Norrköping, " says Kristin Bäck.
How did what you learned in your programme help you in your degree project?
It helped in lots of ways. Media Technology has courses in programming and maths, but also computer graphics, which helped us a lot in the project. Linear algebra combined with computer graphics and C++ programming was by far the most important knowledge that we used in our projects. Also Media Tech has lots of challenging project courses, which taught us to be stubborn and to take on projects where we had no previous knowledge and had to learn a lot on our own.

Have you learned anything in particular from your degree project?
Yes, it pays to be stubborn and to keep fighting, even if the visual result sometimes comes later than you thought. When you get your result, it’s incredibly satisfying. Even when there are lots of problems, it’s good to break them down into as small bits as possible, this way the problems seem more manageable and you create the feeling that the project is making progress all the time. So you keep your motivation going.

Among other things, we’ve learned a lot about programming, and have seen how a large and complex project is handled. We’ve also learned that you know more than you think, sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find what you know, and you have to be brave and test things! Plus, of course we’ve learned a huge amount about Mars and space in general, which is a fun bonus.

Visualisering av Mars rovern CuriosityImages of Mars taken in the OpenSpace software.


Advice from Kristin Bäck and Caroline Gard on degree projects abroad:

  • Go for it! You’ll learn a lot, and it’s brilliant to work with people from other countries and cultures. You develop in terms of working independently and in a team, if there are two of you working together.
  • In many countries, engineering students don’t have degree projects the way we do in Sweden. If you aren’t able to do your degree project through the university, a good idea is to start looking for a placing at a company as early as possible.
  • Enjoy your time away! It will be over sooner than you think!




Translation: Martin Mirko

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