6 Dec 2017

NWIC Alumna, Matilda Brooks: Thriving With 3-D Design @ NASA Ames

Recent graduate of the BSNES program, Matilda Brooks has been making a name for herself in her first year working for NASA Ames. Matilda is continuing work which started with research and development for a 3-D printed knee brace as part of her senior capstore project and internship at AMES.  Matilda continues to work closely with many NWIC Alumni and shares her personal journey through education with Native high school youth in the Native Pathways program via video conference forums.

NASA Ames Article…

“Brooks is not the kind of person to back down from a challenging situation: it’s just not part of her culture. Though she was raised to understand that very few Indigenous Americans obtain a four-year degree, and that it was highly unlikely she would be one of them, Matilda had different ideas for her future.

Matilda grew up in foster care in Portland, Oregon. She spent much of her time reading, writing and working toward becoming a collegiate basketball player or cheerleader. While studying environment sciences at Northwest Indian College, she worked at local restaurants. But Matilda’s heart was set on working in the STEM field – finding a career in science, technology, engineering or math.

Matilda’s love for STEM led her to join her college’s rocket team in 2013. The students participated in NASA’s First Nations Launch (FNL) challenge with support from the Wisconsin Space Grant. The Northwest Indian College team became the first federally recognized team composed of all Indigenous Americans to successfully break the sound barrier. The group was unstoppable, and they continued to win the FNL challenge for the next two years.

Her experience with FNL led to a perfect transition of Matilda’s selection for an internship at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, in summer 2015. “I never thought I would find a place where my hard work and curiosity were noted, appreciated and encouraged,” she said. During her first internship at Ames, Matilda worked in the Rotorcraft Aeromechanics Branch with her mentors, Dr. William Warmbrodt and Larry Young. During the 10-week internship, she participated in helicopter pilot training and 3-D printing through the Rhino 5 software. She enjoyed 3-D printing so much that she kept working with the technology and Ames for her undergraduate capstone project, which was to design a knee brace for high-impact athletics.

In fall 2017, Matilda returned to Ames to continue working with Warmbrodt and Young on 3-D printing, a technology she’s passionate about. “The best part of my work is creating things that are going to be applicable to potential future spaceflight missions,” she said. Matilda currently is designing medical braces, tools and other gear that will help prepare for the journey to Mars. “The importance behind these medical files is trying to implement them into future plans that can be modified to individual subjects for suborbital injuries,” she explained. Matilda is still expanding her portfolio of 3-D printed medical braces, as well as customizable indoor and outdoor walking sticks that will assist astronauts being reintroduced to gravity after long-duration space missions. “I love being able to utilize my unorthodox way of thinking toward something that could possibly help others in pain or financially incapable to receive medical services.”