Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Heidi Hammel - Inspiring Astronomer

When Heidi Hammel asked her high school chemistry teacher to write a recommendation letter to get into MIT, he said, "No. You'll never get in." And when she got accepted he retorted, "That's only because you're a woman. They have quotas to fill." That was 1978. Thank goodness things have changed but still most girls shy away from the sciences, thinking they just aren't cut out for technical careers.

Heidi didn't let the criticism slow her down. MIT was hard and she struggled until she found her niche - Astronomy. Her professor recognized her drive and worked to keep her involved in the class. She was the youngest for four students and the only woman. The following year he asked her to help teach. After graduation she went on to Hawaii for her graduate work and on to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab for post doctorate work before returning to MIT as a as a Principal Research Scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

Now Hammel balances career and family while working with the Space Science Institute. She telecommutes from her home in Connecticut. She's also helping to build the the next big space telescope to replace the Hubble. The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch in 2013.

In 2002, the Division of Planetary Sciences awarded her the Sagan Medal which is given to an active planetary scientist whose efforts have significantly contributed to a public understanding of, and enthusiasm for, planetary science.
During the presentation of the medal she gave a speech focusing on education and public outreach opportunities for the ordinary planetary scientist.

On the education front, Heidi's involved in a website directed at introducing young people to real scientists. She's morphed into a cartoon character that explains the wonders of the outer planets. She's accessible to children and makes stellar careers, like hers, a viable possibility for every young girl and boy to ponder. She's opening their eyes to a myriad of career opportunities in the sciences and saying...yes, you can be a scientist, too.

Heidi Hammel is a leader and on the cutting edge of astronomy. She's a prime example of what can be accomplished with hard work, dedication, and a passion for learning. We should all strive to learn about and do the things that excite our minds and souls...follow your bliss. I think Heidi would agree.


Aseem said...

Very inspiring....
Regards, Aseem

Lisa McGlaun said...

Thanks Aseem. I enjoyed reading your blog, too.


La delirante said...

As usual, a very inspiring story! :) It is so sad when people say to others that they can't do something...but then it is great to see the success of the same people who were told they wouldn't be able to do it :)

Have a nice day!

Lisa McGlaun said...


I know what you mean. I remember when I was small showing my new guitar to my grandfather. His only comment was that girl didn't play guitars. I should go back to taking piano lessons.

Unlike Heidi, I let his comment stop me. I took a months worth of lessons and gave up.

Funny thing is, I know he didn't say it to hurt me. I guess it's a lesson in being careful with our words because they do affect people.