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Bringing Space Down to Earth
06.16.05
 

Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.


New technology helps scientists to learn more and more about space. It can also help us learn more about our home planet, Earth. That's where Diane Evans comes in. She works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Her job is to make sure that technology used to study space is also used to improve life on Earth.

Earth Explorers talked with Evans about what she does. We also asked about her background in geology. And we asked what advice she has for young girls interested in science. Here's what she had to say.

Earth Explorers (EE): What does it mean to use space technology to improve life on Earth?
Picture of Diane Evans sitting on top of a sand dune


Image to right: Diane Evans sits atop a sand dune in the Mojave Desert east of Los Angeles. Credit: NASA

Evans: This means going beyond "gee whiz" and answering "so what?" Take methods used to study how stars form and to map Venus, for example. These techniques can be helpful on Earth, too. They're being used to better understand Earth's ozone hole and to assess earthquake risks. Both human health and the economy can benefit.

EE: What are some specific research goals that JPL scientists are working on?

Evans: Our work is kind of like having to find a needle in a haystack. We're trying to measure one molecule of carbon dioxide in 1 million molecules of air. And we want to detect minute changes in the salt content of seawater. Changes equal to adding less than half a teaspoon of salt to one gallon of water. These are incredibly hard tasks. But scientists need these measurements. They will lead to more accurate forecasts of global warming.

EE: Geology was your focus during college and graduate school. And it played a large role in the early part of your professional life. What sparked this interest?

Evans: It started one summer during college. I was working at Yellowstone National Park. I was amazed by the bubbling mud pots. (Mud pots are turbulent pools of hot, muddy water.) I wanted to learn more about what caused them. So I started taking geology courses back at school in the fall. I found them to be the most interesting classes I'd ever had.

EE: In graduate school, you studied the geology of Mars. Now there's talk of sending humans to Mars. Did you ever think about that possibility back then?

Evans: One of my jobs in graduate school was to weigh lunar samples (Moon rocks). At that time we were definitely thinking about the day when we'd have samples from Mars to study. And there was talk about the challenge of sending humans even then.

EE: What is the most interesting place you've visited while working for NASA?

Evans: I would have to say China. I was there in the early 1990s. We were in small towns -- oases in the desert -- where cars were rare and people drove donkey carts. There were very few westerners in that part of China at the time. It was a joy to interact with the local people. And the geology was amazing.

EE: What have you learned from working with scientists around the world?

Evans: It's important for scientists from all parts of the world to work together. A good example of this was a project I worked on. It was called the Space Radar Laboratory. This was a suite of instruments launched to study Earth's environment from space. The U.S., Germany and Italy were all involved. All three parties had to cooperate to have a successful mission. I learned a lot about what people from other countries value. And I learned how they make decisions.

EE: Do you have any advice for young girls interested in science careers?

Evans: A science career can be rewarding. It may actually be a better choice than most for women. Scientists tend to be open-minded. And they are respected based on their work rather than who they are. As with any career choice, the key is to follow your passion. If you find something that you enjoy, the rest is easy.

See previous Earth Explorers articles:
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