Press Release

NASA to Mentor Students in Earth Science Research

By SpaceRef Editor
May 21, 2003
Filed under ,

John Bluck
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-5026 or 604-9000

Marny Skora
NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Phone: 757/864-6121

Chris McKinnon
Western Governors’ Association, Denver
Phone: 303/623-9378

Monitoring the West Nile virus and using satellite images and other
data to assess the potential for dangerous wildfires are just two of
many projects that six university students will undertake this summer
at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

The Western Governors’ Association, Denver, today announced the
selection of students from western universities who will receive
training and complete internships in applied Earth science, including
remote sensing. Remote sensing is the use of satellite and aerial
images to monitor and investigate environmental, health, agricultural
and other issues. The students, all recommended by their state
governors, will study as many as a dozen Earth science subjects.

“The students will lead the investigations, and they will apply NASA
technology to local problems,” said Cynthia Schmidt, ‘Develop’
coordinator at NASA Ames. ‘Develop,’ a student applications and
workforce development program, focuses on the community benefits of
Earth science. Student teams research state and local problems and
create 3-D computerized visualizations to help government and
industry better understand how NASA technology can help with issues
of community concern.

“‘Develop’ provides workforce development, outreach to communities,
and enables students to apply science to real-world problems,” said
Mike Ruiz, ‘Develop’ national program manager at NASA Langley
Research Center, Hampton, Va.

“Our program will prepare students for positions in natural resource
management,” said Jay Skiles, the NASA Ames ‘Develop’ director. “This
summer, the students will learn skills such as remote sensing, image
interpretation and geographic information system

A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer program that
helps scientists to analyze and manage large numbers of digital
images and other information. Scientists use computers to create maps
with special color-coding to identify objects and areas on the ground
as varied as specific crops, animal habitats and urban areas.

The student study will involve the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe
reservation in Nevada. The primary objectives of this project are to
use remote sensing and ground-based methods to map and monitor
invasive and noxious plant species that are rapidly encroaching upon
the northern Nevada territory. The project also includes organizing
new and existing data to create a database of information about
wildfire fuel on the reservation.

“NASA will benefit by getting students to work on our projects, and
the program will create liaisons between a tribal government in
Nevada and local county governments in California. For example, one
of the projects on which the students will work will be a study of
invasive plant species that can be fuel for wildfires,” Skiles said.

Students also will study the habitat in Monterey County, Calif.,
where West Nile virus disease carriers live. These carriers – called
vectors – include some kinds of birds and mosquitoes. The virus
causes a version of the sometimes-fatal disease encephalitis that
results in inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

The primary objective of the West Nile virus project is to identify
potential mosquito habitat and correlate these data to high-risk
human populations (persons more than 55 years of age) in Monterey
County. The resulting data model will be a part of the
health-monitoring and surveillance system of the county and provide
critical support to community decision makers to prepare them to make
swift and effective response to the spread of the virus in Monterey

The students, their schools and the degrees they are pursuing are:
… Emily Clary, University of New Mexico, master of science, geography
… Jeremiah Knoche, Oregon State University, master of science, geography
… Douglas Gibbons, Utah State University, master of science,
bioregional planning
… Jenna Ames, Utah State University, bachelors, business management
… Alex Hogel, University of Utah, bachelor of science, geography
… Elizabeth Baliff, Utah State University, bachelor of science, geography

The students will begin their project work at NASA Ames on June 9 for
a 10-week period ending August 15. ‘Develop,’ based at NASA Langley,
began in 1988. This year the program is expanding to NASA Stennis
Space Center, Miss., and NASA Ames. The Applications Division of
NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise funds the program. The Western
Governors’ Association is an independent, nonprofit organization
representing the governors of 18 states, American Samoa, Guam and the
Northern Mariana Islands.

SpaceRef staff editor.