Glenn Light

Director, Department of Sensor Systems and Nondestructive Evaluation - Southwest Research Institute

Where are you from?

I was born in Sweetwater, Texas, and was raised on a farm for the first eight years of my life. Now I live in San Antonio, Texas.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.

The first effort I worked on concerning outer space was the development of piezoelectric oscillators for the Apollo clocks while interning at Midland Electronics in Kansas City, Kan. My second effort focused on an inspection system technology for the space station batteries. I also worked on the development of an ultrasonic transducer that would survive the temperature extremes of space -- namely, -350 degrees Fahrenheit (-212.2 degrees Celsius) to +350 degrees Fahrenheit (+176.6 degrees Celsius).

How did you end up working in the space program?

I work for the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), which has worked with NASA for many years on developing various types of technologies. SwRI has an outstanding international reputation for Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) technology development. For example, the space shuttle is a very complex structure that has a large variety of components that must be nondestructively evaluated before flight. These components include bonding of heat tiles, ensuring the structural integrity of the leading edge, auxiliary power turbines, foam insulation, internal composite structures and many others. My work at SwRI has been to take these components and apply ultrasonic, eddy current, ultraviolet, infrared and many other energy fields that can be used to interact with the component in such a way that information can be obtained about the quality of the component.

Who inspired you?

The person who inspired me most was my college physics professor, Dr. Virgil Bottom. He was a retired physicist who did much of the initial work in using piezoelectric materials for oscillators. Dr. Bottom had a tremendous love for physics and had a way of taking book physics and making it into something very tangible. He insisted that his students read theory and then go to the lab to practice understanding the potential lab issues associated with the assumptions made in the theory and measurement accuracies.

What is a Director of the Department of Sensor Systems and Nondestructive Evaluation Technology?

As the Director of the Sensor Systems and NDE Technology Department, I direct physicists, technicians and engineers (mechanical, electrical and computer) to develop technologies, systems and procedures for nondestructively evaluating components to ensure their safe operation. In addition, my job is to ultimately transfer this technology to the client.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

Being selected by the Research Committee of the American Society of Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) for Sustained Excellence in Research was definitely a favorite moment so far in my career.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

I would advise young engineers to approach a new problem by thinking through an experiment before doing it, in order to be prepared to handle things that don't work out as expected.

Secondly, I advise that science and engineering should be accomplished without bias. I have seen so many engineers attack a problem believing that it cannot be done. To me this is a bias that will cause the project to fail. On the other hand, it is important to not be overly optimistic. When a few tests indicate that the project will fail, stop. Don't be so positively biased, that you don't know when to stop.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?

Study hard, always ask why, and when you don't understand something or can't understand something, don't stop studying -- keep working on it. Someday when you have grown in your technical knowledge, you will be able to understand it. And if you do this, you may have many Eureka moments, and your career will be very rewarding.

What do you do for fun?

I love to play music in a band. I also play golf, work in the garden, and do woodworking projects.

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Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.