Student Profile: Sam Heathcote

Sam Heathcote works with the program LabVIEW to collect data from the HIAD tests.
Sam Heathcote works with the program LabVIEW to collect data from the HIAD tests.

Sam Heathcote is a fourth year Bioengineering major from Holden, Maine, who works at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center on a variety of different projects. Most notably, Sam assists research engineer Josh Clapp with the NASA Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project. While Heathcote cherishes his time spent in the lab working with engineers, he aims to pursue a career in ministry after graduation.

Heathcote started at the UMaine Composites Center in March 2013. Heathcote worked as a carpenter, and a few friends working at the center contacted him asking if he could build a few wooden structures for the HIAD testing. He was soon incorporated into the project working with a program called LabVIEW to run tests and collect data.

Working in a lab was welcome change of pace for Heathcote, enjoying being part of the HIAD team, mentoring fellow students, and learning from his coworkers.

“Working with a group of people with different strengths, and learning from them, is one of my favorite parts about working here,” Heathcote said. “It encourages everyone to want to learn more than they know.”

With the HIAD team, Heathcote works with LabVIEW to gather data from the HIAD tests. He also works to get new hardware ready to use for testing. All of the key results distilled from the raw data collected on the project are sent to NASA.

“The idea of data being the main product for a client is very different than, say, building a house. How are we going to set up this system so that we can give the client the data that they need, plus additional information they may want to see? It’s a challenge to not only analyze what your customer wants, but what they’re actually looking for, sometimes they don’t always know.”

This dedication to data and his expertise in LabVIEW gave Heathcote another opportunity with Instrumentation Laboratories as a systems engineer. There, he worked with blood analysis machines, using LabVIEW to operate the systems. That experience has heightened his abilities developed at the center.

“I really do enjoy the engineering aspect of things, playing with ideas and then using that mathematical side has been great,” Heathcote said. “Being able to analyze a situation that comes from a lab setting is very useful when you’re working with people; seeing what’s in front of you clearly isn’t always clear at first. That’s something that we do well here at the center.”

Heathcote started to study distance education with a seminary in the midwest, preparing for ministry work in the future.