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May 21, 2003

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 


Release: 03-39AR       


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 techniques.”                                

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 County.

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.



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