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Profiles: Linda Hermans-Killam

NASA Astronomy Education and Outreach

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Linda Hermans-Killiam Dot

To the right is a thermal infrared image of my son's pet lizard, Dot. Notice how infrared light can actually show us the temperature difference between this cold-blooded reptile and the warm-blooded human hand holding it! Helping to provide a new view of the world around us is just one of the reasons why I became involved in education and outreach. I have always loved learning, and growing up in the Adirondacks gave me a great appreciation for the natural world. Science soon became my favorite subject in school and my hope was to one day become a science teacher.

After my family moved to California, I attended the California State University at Northridge (CSUN) to start on my path towards becoming a high school science teacher. To help pay for my tuition, I worked at CSUN's San Fernando Solar Observatory. At first, I was the maintenance worker, and did everything from painting to cleaning toilets. I was then given a job as an assistant observer, and learned how to operate and collect data from the solar telescopes. At this time I became increasingly interested in astronomy and decided to enter CSUN's Physics and Astronomy program. It was a lot of hard work, especially since I had never taken a physics class before, but somehow I managed and actually started doing well in my physics classes. During my last two years at CSUN, I was allowed to do research at the observatory and to do work on an undergraduate thesis. After studying several years worth of solar data, I discovered a statistical way to predict the eruption of solar filaments. For my work, I received an award from the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and was able to present my first paper at their next meeting.

After receiving my B.S. degree in Physics Honors, the faculty and staff at CSUN strongly encouraged me to continue on to graduate school. I took their advice, and entered the astronomy graduate program at the University of Hawaii, where I completed a thesis on solar chromospheric modeling, and gained a lot of experience teaching physics and general astronomy. While in graduate school, I received a second student award from the AAS Solar Physics Division for work on solar active region growth rates, and was awarded and ARCS scholarship by the astronomy faculty.

After receiving my Master's Degree in Astronomy, I started work at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). My first position at Caltech was in the Solar Astronomy Dept. where I co-discovered a new class of phenomena on the surface of the Sun. I then moved on to NASA's new infrared astronomy center at Caltech (IPAC), where I worked on a variety of projects and picked up many new computer skills working in science support, for both the IRAS (Infrared Astronomical Satellite) and ISO (Infrared Space Observatory) projects. During this time I also taught physics part time at a local college.

While one of my projects was winding down, I heard that NASA wanted its centers to become involved in education and outreach. I knew that this would be a great opportunity to combine my interests in teaching and science, so I quickly volunteered to learn HTML, and created a multi-award winning educational web site about infrared astronomy. Soon, IPAC developed a formal educational outreach program and I moved full time into the project. Today, I design and develop educational web sites, materials, and activities for IPAC, the NASA Spitzer Science Center, and the NASA Herschel Science Center. I am the lead author for Cool Cosmos, and I help manage the Spitzer Research Program for Teachers and Students, a program that gives high school students and teachers an opportunity to do actual astronomical research. Overall, it has been some of the most enjoyable work that I have ever done.

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