March 26, 2014

Former hoops star Brecht reaches for the star

SANTA CRUZ, CA -- After graduating as the school's all time leading rebounder, Brecht  is now working in Menlo Park under a research fellowship for NASA with an eye on Earth's planetary neighbors.
How did you come to choose UCSC for basketball?
UCSC was an undiscovered gem for me.  I had not considered UCSC as an option for college until Allison Slade, the basketball coach at the time talked to me and recruited me to come play.  After I had met some of the team, seen the campus, and got to know the coaches' style, I couldn't say no.  On top of it all, UCSC is a great UC school.  It really was the whole package for me.
Favorite memorable moments? (Outstanding games, fun trips, etc.)
The most memorable trip/game was when the team flew to Atlanta to play Oglethorpe University. ESPN had ranked the most unusual college mascots - UCSC was #1 and Oglethorpe University was #2. The coaches thought it would be fun to have a game between the "Banana Slugs" and the "Stormy Petrels."  So, on Saturday January 10, 2004 we showed up in Atlanta to determine on the court who was the top unusual mascot. One of the coolest things was the school had advertised to the community that young kids would get free admission if they arrived with styrofoam eyeballs on headbands as antennae. Many of the student body arrived with salt shakers to "salt the Slugs." To top it off we won 74 – 68 (Amanda had 12 points 11 rebounds and a steal) and the kids with the eyeballs gave them to us. I will never forget that trip.
On a personal note, the things I remember most were the wonderful friends I made while playing for the Slugs and breaking the school rebounding record.
UCSC Major/Post grad work/ How did you decide on the Space business?
Taking a geology class in high school spurred my interest in geology, especially volcanism, earthquakes, rock structures. That interest led me to an Earth Science major at UCSC.  The department offered a concentration in Planetary Science.  I took an introductory class and thought it was so exciting to think of geology on other planets. My Dad is a research scientist in space and planetary science. He gave me an insight into this area of research and how a path can be carved in this field of science.  From UCSC I have just followed my curiosity and opportunities.  I applied to graduate schools for geology and planetary science. I received a full fellowship to Michigan and I was on my way.
NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship – NASA Ames Research Center (Sept. 2011 – Oct. 2013)
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
Ph. D. in Atmospheric and Space Science March 2011
Title: "Tracing the Dynamics in Venus'Upper Atmosphere"
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
M. S. in Atmospheric and Space Science April 2007
University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz, CA
B. S. in Earth Science with a concentration in Planetary Science June 2005
What are your main duties with the NASA?
Any fun NASA projects you can talk about or are you all "that's classified"?
None of my projects are classified.  All my projects are fun!
I am a planetary research scientist employed by Bay Area Environmental Research Institute but placed at NASA Ames Research Center. I currently work with three dimensional numerical models on predicting/understanding circulation patterns in the middle to upper atmosphere of Venus and Mars.  Similar to the models your local weather person uses for the news, but I apply it to a different planet and a different region of the atmosphere.
The most intriguing aspect of my work is discovering how important atmospheric cycles connect with each other throughout an atmosphere.
My dissertation work was specifically on Venus' middle and upper atmosphere (70 – 150 km) circulation.  Venus has many extreme conditions which result in having unique global circulation patterns. Mars has its own unique qualities.  It has very extreme surface features (i.e. Mountain ranges bigger than anything we have on Earth).  On Earth we have a water cycle (clouds, rain, bodies of water, etc.), Mars has a dust cycle, water cycle, and CO2 cycle.  Understanding these connections is important for current and future space missions, as well as obtaining insight into Earth's atmospheric behavior.

-Embele Awipi