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Pieternel Levelt
Pieternel Levelt riding a bike
Pieternel Levelt is a scientist, an athlete, and a parent. Many people also think she's a weather forecaster. That's because she works at a meteorology institute in the Netherlands.

Image to left: Pietrenel Levelt enjoys being both a scientist and an athlete. Credit: NASA

Levelt isn't a weather forecaster. But her work is related to weather. She's interested in how human beings are affecting ozone in the air. The layer of ozone high up in the sky shields us from the Sun's harmful rays. It also impacts the Earth's climate.

Levelt leads a team of NASA scientists and engineers. Her group has made a sensor that will fly on Aura. It collects data on ozone and other particles.

It's easy for Levelt to trace her interest in science. Her grandfather was a chemist and her grandmother was a physicist. As a child, she went to her father with questions about science. He was a science professor. She went to her mother with questions about math. She was a law professor. And, her husband is a physicist.
Photograph of Pieternel Levelt

Image to right: Pietrenel Levelt likes sports. She also likes her work. Credit: NASA

In high school, Levelt liked problem solving. The harder the problem, the better she liked it. She remembers her chemistry teacher, who got her to solve problems her own way.

But there were teachers who doubted science was the right choice for a girl. One teacher even laughed when she said she wanted to be scientist. Levelt had the last laugh. She went on to earn degrees in chemistry and physics.

Her job and two children are among the most important things in her life right now. But Levelt looks forward to playing sports again.

When she was very young, it was tennis, gymnastics and judo. In high school, she competed in swimming and water polo. She loved both sprints and distance running. She ran her first half-marathon in her early 20s. Then she trained for triathlons, which combine swimming, biking and running.

Sports may re-enter her life at some point. Right now, it's team science that fills her time. Levelt has coached her team of scientists through the building of the ozone sensor. The instrument will also measure pollutants in the air.

In the future, she wants to go back to studying the question that first got her into science. "How does ozone affect the future of life on Earth?" This time she’ll have good data that her team helped gather.
Adapted with permission: ChemMatters magazine © American Chemical Society 2002
Edited by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies