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Mikaela Verhoosel

Mikaela Verhoosel is in her final year of a Bachelor of Robotic and Mechatronic Engineering (Honours) at Swinburne University of Technology. Mikaela is especially passionate about opportunities presented within the space industry. Her interest began when undertaking the Swinburne Haileybury International Space Station Experiment (SHINE) where she learned about the complexities of designing and implementing an experiment to be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment could possibly lead to improvements in space technology. As a result, she has seen the increasing significance that the space industry has in Australia. In her spare time, Mikaela enjoys running and cycling to keep an active lifestyle. Mikaela was interviewed for the WDSN in June, 2018.

Can you start by telling us a bit more about how you got into the space industry? Specifically, in the area of robotics and mechatronics?

Recently, I was involved in a project that involved sending an experiment out to be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS). It was through participating in this experiment that spiked my curiosity and gave me clarity that this is an area I’d like to be a part of. I believe I’m in a fortunate position with my degree in robotics and mechatronic engineering to start developing a foundation within the space industry. There is a lot of development to be made, especially within rapid prototyping, which is an aspect that has drawn me to this industry.

For the novices among us, can you briefly explain what robotics and mechatronics is as it relates to space?

Robotics and mechatronics is a branch of engineering that is multi-faceted, bringing together electrical, mechanical and computer science principles. Think of modern day cars, the autonomic emergency brakes it uses are a common example of the utility of robotics and mechatronic engineering. These brakes detect the car in front of you and if there is a sudden stop, or a backend collision is about to occur, it applies the brakes for you within a second. The integration of the car (mechanical), sensors (electrical) and the speed calculation (computer science), sensors and computer science, is essentially what mechatronic engineering is. Within the space industry it can be applied to a range of instances such as the deployment of NASA’s Curiosity Rover on Mars, or in landing of SpaceX’s reusable rocket boosters.

What advice do you have for women wanting to get into this area?

I would say to just go for it. There is a lot of opportunity out there and so many exciting projects to get involved in. As the space industry is becoming more prevalent within Australia, there is a high demand in many areas, not just within engineering. If developing ‘out of this world’ technology interests you, then follow your interest and watch it become a passion.

What podcasts are you currently listening to?

Currently, I’m listening to Dr. Karl from Triple J, answering questions ranging from whether time travel is a possibility to ‘why are deep sea creatures translucent?’. As anyone can ask a question, it always makes for an interesting listen. To mix it up, I also listen to Impact Theory, where the host Tom Bilyeu invites a range of people to talk about their experiences and what they’ve had to overcome, such as Olympians to successful business people.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Swinburne SHINE in space program? What are the potential implications of the program for the space industry?

The Swinburne SHINE Space Program involves a collaboration between university students, acting as mentors to high school students from Haileybury College. Together, we conceptualised an experiment that we could conduct in space. We chose to ‘shoot for the stars’ and tackle how to drive rotating fluids in microgravity, an incredible difficult process to perform directly with a pump as the fluids behave counterintuitively in ‘zero-g’. We planned to turn a wheel filled with magnetorheological fluid with a magnetic field from bespoke Helmholtz coils. If that doesn’t sound difficult enough, it then had to be conducted in a 15cm long tube. This didn’t leave much room for error. Currently, the experiment is running on the ISS and we’ll be analysing the results soon. Overall, the program is an exciting way to educate students – both at secondary and tertiary levels – about the many career opportunities the space industry entails.

Finally, who inspires you?

Natalie Panek. She’s a mission systems engineer in robotics and mechatronics at MDA. She gets to work on exciting projects such as the European Space Agency’s 2018 ExoMars Rover, all whilst sharing her experiences and how they’ve shaped her within the space industry. Subsequently, Natalie continues to promote and encourage women to get involved in technology.

Updated: 18 Dec 2018