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Spitzer Profile: Aomawa* Shields

Helpdesk Operator/Spitzer Science User Support Team

Aomawa Shields
Aomawa Shields

When I was 12 years old, I saw the movie Space Camp. I decided right then that I'd found what I wanted to do with my life. This was not long after the Challenger disaster, and many people thought it was a crazy thing to want to fly in space, but I was not deterred. I learned everything I could about the space program -- the different types of NASA missions, the names of the astronauts and the missions they flew. I was especially interested in the Gemini and Apollo programs. I studied astronomy at Phillips Exeter Academy, and went to MIT, where I got my bachelor's degree in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. I did summer research internships at the MIT Center for Space Research, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

I loved acting on stage too, but saw it as just a hobby. It wasn't until the middle of my first year in a PhD program in astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that I realized I would regret not trying my hand at acting professionally if I didn't do it. I left the PhD program in 1998, and moved out to LA to study acting at UCLA. I got my MFA in Acting in 2001. My silver screen debut was in the film Nine Lives, which premiered at Sundance in 2005 and was released nationally that October by Magnolia Pictures. It was an amazing experience, and got me my SAG card. And Ebert and Roeper both put it on their "Top Ten Films of 2005" list! I also play the violin, and have played back-up violin for Brian McKnight on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The American Music Awards, and Donny and Marie.

Aomawa Shields
Aomawa Shields' acting headshot
Photo by Lori Dorn

People often wonder how I could make such a 180 degree turn and do something so different from science. I believe there are so many things I could have done, it's a wonder I chose only two!

I thought I'd left the astronomy community for good, but when I found out about a job at the Spitzer Science Center helping out with the mission of the Spitzer Space Telescope, I knew it was the job for me! As Helpdesk Operator for the Spitzer Science Center, I answer questions about Spitzer and the observing opportunities on the telescope, and help astronomers who have approved programs modify their planned observations and get their data. I also assign specific questions that come into the Helpdesk in all sorts of areas -- from data reduction to program scheduling -- to specialized members of the Science User Support Team, of which I'm a member. I also edit the website that you are visiting right now. It's exciting coming to work every day, because I never know what kinds of questions will be waiting for me in the Helpdesk, and it's my job to make sure that they all get answered one way or another, ideally within 48 hours! It's the job of the Science User Support Team to support the astronomical community in its use of the Spitzer Space Telescope. So we're here to help!

Aomawa Shields' cats
Momma and Mimi

Since I'm an actor too, I get to do lots of other fun, creative stuff, including performing my one-person shows Goddess, Divided, and Necessary Precautions both locally and nationally. I also enjoy writing, and have written plays, screenplays, a book-length collection of poems called The Restless Season, and an essay, Universe: The Sequel, which will be published in November, 2006 in the anthology She's Such a Geek: Women Write about Science, Technology, and other Nerdy Stuff.

When I'm not at work, acting in something, or writing, I'm usually hanging out with friends, watching movies or driving up the Pacific Coast with my husband, reading, or playing with our cats, mother and daughter duo Momma and Mimi (who are quite the pair). My life is very full, and I feel lucky and proud to spend a good deal of it at the Spitzer Science Center.

* (Ah-'oh-muh-wah)



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