Father, son work on science innovations together at JPL
Glendale Community College instructor and 21-year-old son find themselves co-workers at the NASA center.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)
For the last 11 years he has taught mostly upper-level math courses at Glendale Community College.
“As a kid he did influence me a lot,” his 21-year-old son, Edward Djrbashian, said. “I saw … all the research that he was doing at home. It sparked an interest, in a sense.”
The younger Djrbashian began to chart his own course even before graduating from Clark Magnet High School, enrolling in classes at the college where his dad works. He eventually landed in a physics course, taught by Richard Guglielmino, who became a mentor.
Edward Djrbashian starts in the engineering program at USC next month.
For the summer, however, father and son are busy at work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they are lending their brain power to projects on composite reflectors and the latest Mars mission, respectively.
“To my memory, this is the first time we have had a parent and a student here at the same time,” said Rich Alvidrez, who oversees community college initiatives for the JPL education office.
The laboratory has a long-standing relationship with local community colleges, taking on professors and students for research projects and internships every year, Alvidrez said.
This summer, Ashot Djrbashian is one of four Glendale Community College professors working at the facility. He is part of a team trying to develop composite reflectors that can better operate during future space missions in highly variable thermal environments.
He saw the project as a first-hand opportunity to see theoretical math and science used in a practical way, the math professor said.
“It is a completely different area and completely different thinking, which is on the one hand difficult to adjust to, and on the other hand, challenging and very interesting,” he said.
Edward Djrbashian's stint with JPL started in the form of a one-semester internship in spring 2011. His supervisor liked his work and subsequently hired him as a paid research apprentice. Most recently he has been working on image processing for the current Mars mission, which is expected to culminate on Aug. 5 with the landing of the Curiosity rover on the planet's surface.
He recently gave a presentation for several high-profile JPL officials.
“My supervisor didn't tell me who they were because he didn't want to make me nervous,” Edward Djrbashian said. “He told me afterward they were the top people who are working here. It is kind of nerve-wracking.”
The senior and junior Djrbashians are working in buildings about a 10-minute walk apart, but they occasionally connect at lunch to talk shop and swap advice.
“You have to be very accurate with everything you do,” Edward Djrbashian said.
“But besides that, everyone is really, really nice.”
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