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Women of SDO - Nicki Viall
Nicki Viall › View larger
Nicki Viall Credit: NASA
Q & A with Nicki

What first sparked your interest in science or engineering?
When I was in the 6th grade I received an assignment to do a report on black holes. That definitely sparked my interest in science and astronomy, and after the project was over I continued to read books on astronomy, especially those by Carl Sagan. I think everyone has an inherent desire to understand their world and science is the tool to achieve that understanding. Also, science is fun!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
My favorite thing about my job is learning and discovering new things. The potential to understand some piece of our world that hasn’t been understood before is incredible. The combination of SDO data with new modeling and data analysis capabilities allows us to look at the Sun in a way that nobody ever has before. That is very exciting! Additionally, Goddard is such an exciting place to be, with so many opportunities to collaborate with other scientists.
What advice would you give to students who would like to work on a project such as SDO?
Take science and math classes. Critical thinking, problem solving and analysis are such important parts of our every day lives, regardless of what your specific role on a particular project is. The ability to problem solve is very empowering. Also, don’t get discouraged with difficulties and setbacks; rather, think of them as growth and learning opportunities. Success is never easy, regardless of your career choice.
What do you do on an average day?
I get to look at and analyze all of the beautiful SDO data! On a typical day I work with these data to test theories of what we expect the Sun to be doing. I also run models that simulate particular aspects of solar physics. Finally, I compare the model predictions with what the SDO data show.
What are the greatest challenges of your job?
It can be difficult to come up with new ways to test our theories and understanding of how the Sun works. Sometimes, you come up with a way to test a theory, you run your test on the data and the result of the test is ambiguous. Now what? One frustration is that the Sun is going to do whatever the Sun is going to do – this is in contrast to a lab experiment where you can control the variables and the system. With the Sun, you have to figure out a way to test a particular theory despite the fact that you have no control over the system.
What is your favorite hobby/activity outside of work?
It’s difficult for me to choose just one. I love to dance ballet, take yoga classes, knit, garden, play golf and go camping and hiking.

About Nicki

Full Name: Nicholeen “Nicki” Mary Viall

Position/Title: NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow in the Solar Physics Lab

Hometown (City,State): Kent, WA

  • University of Washington, Seattle, WA., B.S. Physics and Astronomy, June 2004
  • Boston University, Boston, MA., PhD in Astronomy, January 2010

Career Highlights:
  • I won a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship to study coronal heating, which brought me to GSFC in January 2010.
  • For my five years as a graduate student at Boston University I studied Sun-Earth interactions. My focus was on the causes and characteristics of a particular kind of solar wind variability, and the effect this variability has on the Earth’s magnetosphere. I completed my dissertation, entitled ‘Periodic Solar Wind Density Structures’ in January 2010.
  • While I was a graduate student I served two years as the Solar Heliospheric & INterplanetary Environment (SHINE) student representative (2008 and 2009).
  • Before graduate school I was the lead instructor for the Crime Solvers summer camp for 4th-6th grade kids at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington.
  • While I was earning my undergraduate degree I spent two years working as a science instructor for Mad Science of Seattle. I did science programs for preschoolers as well as K-6th grade classes.