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Anne Douglass - Thinks Like a Scientist (Part 2 of 2)
April 22, 2014

[image-51]Name: Anne Douglass
Title: Aura Project Scientist and Co-Lead for the Chemistry Climate Model
Formal Job Classification: Atmospheric Scientist
Organization: Code 614, Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Laboratory, Science Directorate

When faced with a complex problem, Aura project scientist and co-lead for the Chemistry Climate Model Anne Douglass instructs herself to think like a scientist.

When you are faced with a scientific problem, what is your approach?

I tell myself, “Think like a scientist,” and “You can do this.” Then I draw a picture or maybe write an equation and find my starting point. That’s how I get started.

How do you deal with scientific uncertainty?

There will always be scientific uncertainty when it comes to climate issues or ozone issues, but compared with the 1970s, we have a lot more information that lets us address some of those uncertainties with fact. It is like a puzzle.

The ozone question came up in the 1970s. At that time, we didn’t have enough information to answer the question. The ability to represent the system, the questions about the system and the certainty of the answers all evolve at the same time. There are some underlying issues about Earth’s atmosphere that remain the same, but the specifics certainly change as we learn more.

[image-94]Why did you come to work at Goddard?

I came to Goddard out of graduate school. Just as my research has evolved, my reasons for staying at Goddard have evolved. Originally, my husband and I were looking for two professional jobs in one city, which we found here. My first position was flexible and for the first few years I did not work full-time. Flexibility was important to me as I tried to find a professional/home life balance.  My last two daughters went to the Goddard Child Development Center. Early in my career on-site daycare was important to me too.

Why did you stay?

In the larger picture, I stay because of the collaboration with people in other areas. The whole really is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s really exciting being part of that. It’s a big advantage to anyone involved with modeling and prediction to be part of the agency that provides the real data.

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?

The coolest thing I ever did was visit the Aura satellite while it was being built and then again when it was on the rocket ready to launch. I even got within a few hundred feet of the rocket. It was just awesome. I wasn’t there for the launch because the first two attempts were cancelled and I had to return to Goddard. Being involved with the launch was absolutely the coolest thing. If anyone asks you to be involved in a project that will launch, just say yes!

[image-78]Please tell us about the “How to Engineer a Satellite” project you recently did with one of your grandsons and other students at his middle school.   

I’m always so proud to represent Aura, whether to NASA Headquarters or before the public. Last year I worked with one of my grandsons and 60 middle school children on a project called “How to Engineer a Satellite.” The kids brainstormed about how to design a mission including the measurements to take, the power requirements and the communications requirements for their platform. I brainstormed with the children the same way that I would brainstorm with Goddard’s engineers. We made the project out of LEGO. I quickly got 60 children engaged and enthusiastic about Earth science. Any place that I represent Aura, it’s exciting.

Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?

I love to dance ballroom and tap. My husband and I are taking lessons once a week. It changes your life. It’s great!

My other hobby is my 11 grandchildren. My daughter the oceanographer has quadruplets, two boys and two girls, who are now 18 months old. She lives in New Orleans. They’re so cute you can’t even stand it. The kids are already a team. Babies learn to take turns by the time they are three months old. Their house is filled with baby laughter. Being a grandmother is the best job you can get. From my youngest who is now 8 months to the oldest who is a teenager, they’re all enchanting.

What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their career at Goddard?

Science is my passion. You have to love what you do.

What life lessons would you offer?

If I was giving anybody advice for life, I’d say that you can’t plan for everything. You can make a plan, but then things change and you manage by adapting. I didn’t think I’d have five kids, it was surprising. The grandchildren are a gift to me, but a challenge to their parents. You have to learn to be flexible. You never know what’s going to happen. I’ve been lucky.

Read Part One of Anne's interview

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Anne Douglass
Anne Douglass
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NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Anne and her daughters
Anne with her daughters Kate and Liz, all sporting "aura wear."
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Courtesy of A. Douglass
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Aura team
From left: Reinhard Beer, John Gille, Pieternel Levelt, Ernie Hilsenrath, Anne Douglass, Mark Schoeberl, Joe Waters, P.K. Bhartia, and Phil DeCola at the Aura launch.
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Courtesy of A. Douglass
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Page Last Updated: April 23rd, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner