NASA DEVELOP and Earthzine Virtual Poster Sessions Showcase Innovative Solutions to Real-World Problems

NASA DEVELOP and Earthzine Virtual Poster Sessions Showcase Innovative Solutions to Real-World Problems

BY Jenny Woodman Posted: 15 May 2015

For many students, there are some things you just can’t learn in a classroom.

Today, Chase Mueller is a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. But in 2012, he was looking for a way to acquire new skills between college and graduate school. “I learned a lot in my undergraduate program,” he explains, “but I never learned how to implement any of it in a research fashion.”

Mueller applied and was accepted to the NASA DEVELOP National Program, designed to bridge the gap between NASA Earth observations and society via 10-week internships held each spring, summer, and fall.

The program provides invaluable experience to participants, who include high school, college, and graduate students, returning veterans, and individuals just getting started in their careers.

“I had an increased level of confidence moving forward in grad school,” Mueller says, “I began asking questions I would have never thought to ask before, and it inspired new ideas that led to my thesis, an expansion of the project I worked on at DEVELOP.”

He worked on three projects over five terms at DEVELOP, which focused on water resources in Brazil and California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range.

From a video for “Fire and Ice Wars: Battles in the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” from a 2013 VPS co-authored by Mueller.

Since 2011, NASA DEVELOP and IEEE’s Earthzine have partnered to showcase the interns’ work in Virtual Poster Sessions (VPS). Earthzine is an online publication of the Oceanic Engineering Society that was established as a contribution to the Group on Earth Observation, in which IEEE is a participating member. The poster sessions highlight collaboration and products from teams working at NASA locations and with partner organizations.

“Earthzine has published hundreds of DEVELOP research projects that span a broad range of applications,” said Paul Racette, Earthzine editor-in-chief. “DEVELOP is transforming the way Earth information is used in people’s daily lives, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”

NASA launched DEVELOP in 1999, following a group of interns at Langley Research Center who published a research paper in 1998 that focused on ways NASA technologies could be used to benefit both people and industries. The paper coincided with a push to increase access to Earth observations led by the Digital Earth Initiative.

Since its launch, DEVELOP has grown into an opportunity for hundreds of participants each year to gain practical experience working with NASA and partner organizations to solve real-world environmental and public policy problems.

In the program, teams are paired with an outside organization with a specific need, and they use NASA data to solve or address that need.

For example, for DEVELOP and Earthzine’s current Spring 2015 VPS, student researchers at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center worked with Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to examine and enhance water monitoring systems in the region. They compared Landsat and Suomi-NPP data with samples collected by volunteers through Alabama Water Watch, and ground data from ADEM. Continuous water sample collection in the field (from 825 bodies of water) is time-consuming and costly, and the students demonstrated that satellite data can enhance expensive, existing monitoring.

On 4 May, after two rounds of judging, Earthzine announced the spring VPS grand prize winner and runner-up. For more information on the winners, as well as a complete listing of posters by category, visit: http://earthzine.org

The spring 2015 VPS, which ran through 29 April, brought 107 researchers together for 29 projects that tackled a wide range of topics, ranging from natural disasters to vineyard mapping. This year's grand prize winners, a team of four who worked at Ames Research Center, worked on drought monitoring in the Navajo Nation.

Teams provide an abstract, presentation materials, and a video summary of their work. During a judging period, VPS visitors to Earthzine were invited to comment on and discuss each team’s work. Prizes sponsored by Esri are given to the best presentations.

By presenting their findings to experts, DEVELOP interns learn important skills that will help them advance to the next level in their studies, and their future careers.  Mueller’s current project at Ames, using remotely sensed data to study water quality in Nigeria, emerged from his final summer at DEVELOP.

For Mueller, participating in DEVELOP played a large role in getting him to where he is today.

“You gain so much being able to work with individuals of all walks of life for a common goal,” he said. “DEVELOP provides a way to learn and grow outside of academia, bridging the gap between text books and applied science.”

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Jenny Woodman is a graduate student at Portland State University working toward an MFA in creative nonfiction writing; she has been interning as a science writer for Earthzine since the summer of 2014.

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