Matthew Brennan

Virtual Experience Designer Cyberpunk writers imagine a future in which advanced computer technology falls into the wrong hands. Neuromancer, by William Gibson, was one of the first cyberpunk novels. Virtual Experience Designer Matthew Brennan, who also calls himself a human-computer interaction designer, calls Neuromancer “one of my favorite sci-fi books.”  In another of Brennan’s favorite reads — Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson — Hiro Protagonist enters the Metaverse, a virtual reality he helped create. Protagonist battles an evil-doer named Raven and snow crash, a computer virus. In 2016, when a company called Oculus began selling what they called Rift, the… Learn more

William C. Johnson

Analytical Chemist If you drink juice, water, or milk from a box, you probably take it for granted that the paperboard that the carton is made of won’t let the liquid it contains leak out. And when you reach for a paper cup filled with hot cocoa, coffee, or tea, you certainly don’t want those beverages to soak through the paper and burn you or stain your clothes.  There are precise chemical recipes used to treat different types of paper used to make juice boxes, coffee cups, and other useful paper products. These innovative chemical formulas are discovered by analytical… Learn more

Tamara Skeeter

Skate-boarding in Golconda Skate Park might have been on the dangerous side, were it not for the work of Civil Engineer Tamara Skeeter and her colleagues.  Read to the end to find out why! Did you learn about the Pythagorean theorem in geometry class? And have you wondered whether it would be useful to you beyond the right triangles in the math worksheets you completed? “I use it all the time” says Skeeter, who takes the designs for roads, sidewalks, ramps, bridges, and walls and figures out what measurements and materials make each structure work well for the people using… Learn more

Amanda Kyle Gibson

BiologistEvolutionary Biologist Once upon a time, there was a banana named Big Mike (Gros Michel was its French name). Popular with people who eat fruit and with farmers who made a living off of providing that fruit to them, Big Mike was planted over and over. This particular banana tree was cloned — farmers grew genetically identical versions of it on many Latin American plantations, a practice known as monoculture. Alas, along came a dastardly fungus: the disease known as Fusarium wilt. It destroyed Big Mike, who had next-to-no protection from disease. And with all that cloning, if Fusarium wilt… Learn more

Jill Venton

Analytical Chemist / Neurochemist / Chemist Have you worked with fruit flies in science class or spotted these very small insects flying around ripe bananas or other fruit? Imagine the size of a fruit fly’s brain. How would you measure something that small? And how might experimenting with the chemicals in brains that small help human beings work towards understanding and one day finding a cure for diseases like Parkinson’s? A nanometer (nm) is a tiny piece of a meter.  (Spread your arms wide and look at the distance between your left and right hands. That’s about a meter or,… Learn more

Xi Yang

Ecologist/Global Change Ecologist  According to Guinness World Records, the tallest living tree — a Sequoia sempervirens in California’s Redwood National Park — stood 115.85 meters (380 feet and one inch) tall in 2017. Scientists estimate that this tree has stood there for 600-800 years.   In the second decade of this century, from approximately 2011 to 2017, record-breaking hot temperatures in California combined with low rates of precipitation (rain and snow) to cause a drought. Scientists studying that drought determined that it was the worst one in over 1,000 years. They measured tree growth (trees grow faster in wetter years, producing… Learn more

Lauren Miller Simkins

Glacial Geologist The Nathaniel B. Palmer ship is an icebreaker — a boat designed to break ice so that the scientists on board can explore Antarctica at all seasons of the year, in any weather conditions. Glacial Geologist Lauren Miller Simkins spends one to three months at a time on this ship, working seven days a week in shifts of 12 hours. She usually gets only around five hours of sleep a night when working on the Palmer because the work that she and her colleagues do is so exciting that she “has trouble going to sleep after 12 hours.”… Learn more

Alexander Walts

Aerospace Engineer “I just want to work on something that goes into space. I don’t care if all I do is tighten one bolt. I just want to see the rocket go and know that I did something on that thing to make it work.”  That was Aerospace Engineer Alexander Walts’s wish in college, when he sent out hundreds of applications for internships, hoping to eventually be accepted to one that would push him closer to his dream. Today, he builds critical parts of machines that will help detect X-ray radiation in outer space.  Working on XRISM, a joint project… Learn more

Noel Gurwick

Earth System Scientist “I am somebody who enjoys spending time tramping around in the woods,” says Ecosystem Biologist Noel Gurwick, an earth system scientist. Perhaps that’s part of the reason he’s interested in protec ting the environment from damage done by human activity. In the late 18th (1700s) and early 19th (1800s) centuries, the industrial revolution brought great changes to the economy. People used metal and new sources of energy, such as coal, steam, and petroleum to build machines and power cars and trains. They organized themselves and those machines into factories that allowed them to produce clothing and goods that… Learn more

Anne Knapp

Zoologist and Zookeeper Anne Knapp liked science when she was a kid, but she always wanted to be a dancer or an actor. She trained in dancing and theater until college, where she started as a theater major at Central Michigan University. After some time, though, Anne decided that she should “really get a degree in something that wasn’t theater,” even though she “could still do theater if I wanted to.” She knew she was interested in nature, so she changed her major to biology. A life-changing moment happened when Knapp, who was still in college but thinking about training to… Learn more