Episode 29: Bianca Baker

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Episode 29: Bianca Baker
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guest: Bianca Baker, NASA SCI Files™ Tree House Detective

(0:00) Intro

(0:20) Interview with Bianca Baker. Virginia Tech student Bianca Baker reflects on her role as a NASA SCI Files Tree House Detective as she prepares for real-world scientific investigation.

          NASA SCI Files   →
          Article about Bianca Baker
          Space Day   →
          NASA Learning Opportunities   →

(8:04) The National Space Biomedical Research Institute's Graduate Education Program in Space Life Sciences   → integrates coursework, research and internships at two U.S institutions.

(10:22) End

Send your comments or questions to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 29. Sept. 5, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

If you've grown up watching NASA's SCI Files, then you may quickly recognize the voice of Bianca Baker.

Bianca Baker [SCI Files clip]: Sounds like a good hypothesis, but we need to check a little more carefully. Remember it's always important to do research before jumping to conclusions.

Deana: Bianca was one of the inquisitive investigators on the public television series that introduced students in grades three through five to NASA. SCI Files aired on PBS member stations across the United States from 1999 to 2007.

Bianca [SCI Files clip]: Visit the NASA SCI Files Web site for lots of great tools to help you in your own investigations.

Deana: Bianca was one of the SCI Files Tree House Detectives, a group of youngsters who solved real-world problems by getting help from NASA experts. Her involvement with NASA started in elementary school. And now, she's out of high school and moving on to Virginia Tech to study biology and pre-med. We talked recently about her plans for the future, NASA's influence on her choices, and her experience on the TV show.


How many kids were on the NASA SCI Files?

Bianca: Originally, there were three, and I was one of the original three. And from there, as the fan-base got bigger and we started to travel to more locations, we ended up bringing in more children. So it finally ended up with three boys and three girls.

Deana: Describe your character in the show.

Bianca: My character is kind of like the leader. [laughter] It's my tree house, and my mom works for NASA, of course. And I thought it would be cool to have my friends and I solve problems in our community using the scientific method. So I'm kind of the one that's the nerd, and I'm always at the computer and keeping everybody in order. So I'm kind of like the brainiac of the group.

Deana: How many years were you involved with it?

Bianca: Let's see, I've been doing it since I was in the third grade -- like 10 or 11? [laughter]

Deana: So you did that -- for like a decade, you were on the show.

Bianca: Yeah.

Deana: What are your best memories of your SCI Files days?

Bianca: My best memories are probably traveling, just because I got to see a lot of places that I otherwise never would have been able to go. Like, I got to go to Arecibo, in Puerto Rico, and see the telescope there. And that's something not a lot of people get to do, so I thought that was pretty exciting. So, definitely the travel is one of my best memories.

Deana: Do you have a favorite episode of SCI Files?

Bianca: I do have a favorite, and I can't remember what the name of the episode is. We had the problem where there were ducks, and they were leaving from a certain area, and we were trying to figure out what was causing them to migrate and why they were leaving our hometown.

So we got to travel to different places, and one of the places was Discovery Cove, and down there we learned about different types of animals and migratory patterns, and what will cause animals to leave and ways to bring animals back. And we also got to swim with dolphins. And that was really exciting, because I'd never done that before, and I got to kiss one on the nose. [laughter]

Deana: Are there any bloopers or hilarious moments that you'd want to share?

Bianca: Hmm, bloopers or hilarious moments? No, not that I can think of off the top of my head, but I'm sure there's plenty of funny stuff to go around. Like when the kids would get the giggles on the set, and they'd be trying to record, and as soon as they say, "Action," we would just bust out laughing and it wouldn't stop for like 15 minutes. And the producers would be like, "What is wrong?" But we just could not stop laughing.

Deana: As you recorded, were there a lot of takes that you had to do in order to get the final product?

Bianca: Yeah.

Deana: Have you been involved with any other NASA activities?

Bianca: No. Not since the show stopped airing, I haven't been. But something exciting happened today, if you'd care to know.

Deana: I'd love to.

Bianca: Actually, through NASA, I did a program called Space Day, which John Glenn is the co-founder for. And I just got a card from him in the mail today, and he was congratulating me on graduating. And he said that he heard that I'm going to Virginia Tech in the fall, and he's looking forward for me to keep in touch with him, and he knows that I'll do well. So I thought that was pretty exciting. It's not every day that you wake up and you have a letter from John Glenn. [laughter]

Deana: Wow, that is exciting.

Bianca: Yeah.

Deana: Did all this involvement that you've had with NASA impact your college and career choices?

Bianca: A lot. It impacted a lot. Believe it or not, in elementary school and stuff, I really struggled with math, and knowing that math and science kind of go hand in hand, it kind of turned me off from science as well. But being involved in the show and learning about a lot of the same things that I was doing in class, it actually gave me more confidence in those areas. And it taught me how to help myself to learn, because not everybody can learn from seeing it on a board or seeing it in a book. So it helped me to learn how I learn best. And from there it really showed me how much I love science and math.

Deana: And now you plan to pursue a science and math career, a career that's going to very heavily depend on those disciplines, right?

Bianca: Yes.

Deana: Tell me about what you're planning for the future.

Bianca: Well, I'm on the dance team at Virginia Tech. So, I'm planning on dancing as a "HighTech," and that's pretty exciting because football is pretty big in the "Hokie Nation." [laughter]

Deana: Right.

Bianca: Other than that, just studying biology and pre-med, and really trying to prepare myself for medical school.

Deana: And then what would you like to do, when you come out of med school? Do you know yet?

Bianca: Part of me says that I want to be a physician, but part of me says that I would much rather like to be a researcher. So I guess it's just once you get in there, and you kind of dibble and dabble in a little bit of everything, you really find out what your strong points are. So, right now I can't say that I know 100 percent.

Deana: Right now, is there an area of research that is particularly interesting to you?

Bianca: No, I just really like immunology from recently getting to go to Seattle, and I went to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. And I got to hear an immunologist speak about a discovery he made about the protein siderocalin, and how they're now using that to possibly find a cure for cystic fibrosis. And that just really intrigued me. And that also gave me more of a push towards immunology -- you know, being able to cure what's, right now, not curable.

Deana: In the future, I know that you're really going in a technical direction, but you said you are going to do dance team. Do you see yourself continuing in some type of performing arts as you go along?

Bianca: I would love to, because I would know this is something I've always loved to do. I'm shy, but for some reason, whenever I'm in front of the camera, I'm a completely different person and I'm 100 percent comfortable. That's something I would love to pursue, but at the same time, I just want to make sure. You've always got to have that backup plan, because that field is not really guaranteed. [laughter]

Deana: Bianca Baker, reflecting on her SCI Files days as she heads to college. You can still watch SCI Files on the Web. We'll post a link in this week's show notes, along with more information about Space Day and other NASA opportunities for students. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.


Sending astronauts on long-duration missions will require complex biomedical research to ensure their safe health and well-being. The National Space Biomedical Research Institute is preparing future scientists for this challenge through a Ph.D. program that integrates coursework, research and internships at two U.S institutions.

NSBRI’s Graduate Education Program in Space Life Sciences is conducted jointly at Texas A&M University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. The program enables students working toward a Ph.D. at these institutions to focus on space life sciences and experience advanced courses in biomedical science and engineering, specifically as these fields relate to the space initiative.

The Texas A&M Ph.D. Training Program in Critical Areas of Space Life Sciences is currently recruiting participants. Students will pursue doctoral degrees in kinesiology, nuclear engineering or nutrition.

The Texas A&M program will train scientists to perform the work necessary to solve three of the most critical problems that limit long-duration spaceflight: bone loss, muscle wasting and effects of cosmic radiation. Graduates will gain an integrated global perspective on these major biological problems of long-duration spaceflight and will be specifically trained in nutritional and exercise physiology countermeasures against them.

For more information about the Graduate Education Program in Space Life Sciences and the Texas A&M opportunity, check out this week’s show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.

We want to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for listening.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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