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Meet: Rosalind A. Grymes, Ph.D.

Outreach Program Manager for Life Sciences
NASA Ames Research Center

photo of rose grymes

Who I Am and What I Do

I'm responsible for the Outreach Program for the Life Sciences Division of NASA Headquarters. Outreach is the public interface for NASA's life sciences; we work on involving the public, investing in their (and our) future, and inspiring in them the dream of human space exploration. We involve communicators, educators, students, and "just folks" in the day-to-day reality of what the researchers and engineers in the space life sciences community do. We show them how their support of the space program results in tangible benefits to them, right now and right here, on Earth as well as in space. We invest in educating our children, the future astronauts and first citizens of Mars. We try to inspire them to "keep the dream alive" by sharing not only the fascinating world of NASA's life sciences projects, but also by striving to share the human face of spaceflight.

Among our projects are those that bring people to people, and others that use larger distribution methods to reach audiences beyond what we can do one-to-one or one-to-a-few. We do teacher workshops, we develop materials that go into classrooms, we create multimedia tools, we create Websites. Our first project on the Internet was the Shuttle/Mir Online Research Experience (S/MORE). Like NeurOn, S/MORE was designed to bring the mission and science to participants in meaningful ways. Both projects combine science activities that illustrate a mission's spaceflight activities with personal interactions through journal entries and Web chats with mission personnel.

The NASA centers that focus on life sciences research are Ames Research Center (ARC) in California, Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Texas, and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. There are also seven or eight university consortia--sometimes it's a single university and sometimes it's a partnership with two or more universities--that are called NASA Specialized Centers of Research and Training. The Life Sciences Division at NASA partners with the National Science Foundation to support one of the NSCORTs. They investigate certain topic-areas, like gravitational biology, vestibular physiology, and regulatory biology, that add to what NASA centers do in a very focused way, but outside the NASA system. I work with all these groups, the field centers, the NSCORTs, and other academic, industrial, and nonprofit groups to increase the sphere of Life Sciences outreach opportunities.

My Career Journey

I came to NASA seven years ago to start an on-site laboratory in the area of cell and molecular biology. Three years ago I increased my participation in projects focused on communicating science, and moved away from my own laboratory projects.

I was an undergraduate at two University of California campuses, Santa Cruz and Davis, graduating from UC Davis with a BS in virology. In between those places, I spent a year in England at the University of Manchester, studying bacteriology. It was in Manchester, in a program that immersed students in laboratory work, that I became "sold" on microbiology as my career focus. I remember being struck by the "magic" of the circular bacterial genetic material, and the unique key towards understanding molecular genetics that the bacterial genome offers us.

I did my graduate work at Stanford University, and received a Ph.D. with a major in cancer biology and a minor in medical microbiology. I took a few years off when my daughter was born, returning to post-doctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine when she was in kindergarten. From there I joined NASA.

Likes/Dislikes About Career

I really like the end result of what I do, and I like the process of doing it. The process involves a lot of people interaction, and a lot of remote communications, too. I use e-mail, the Internet, teleconferencing and videoconferencing. I also travel quite frequently, most often to Washington, D.C., or to one of the field centers (JSC and KSC; I live here at ARC). I like seeing the results of my efforts, and most dislike projects that ask for or require my participation and then don't pass back their results, or don't lead to any detectable positive fallout for my projects. I dislike being told, "You can't do it that way," especially when there's no good reason for it, just, "You just can't," or, "We've never done it that way." I don't mind when there's a good reason, and in fact I really like the kind of brainstorming or "mindsharing" sessions that result in outcomes different than what I imagined, but result that way because everyone was able to contribute to the whole, and develop something bigger or better than any of us individually could create. I like learning and changing, and this job gives me a lot of opportunity to do both.

My Message to You
My job focuses on telling people about what NASA's life scientists do, sometimes showing it to them, and always explaining why the research is important and what answers result from it. NASA's Life Sciences mission is to develop the capability for human exploration of the solar system, and to use the environment of space, particularly the radiation and microgravity aspects of it, to better understand life on Earth. What we are and what we know is intertwined with our environment--this place where we all live--the Earth. An (almost) inescapable fact of life on Earth is gravity; it is the attraction that the planet holds for all of us. It has influenced the evolution of all life, on the land and in the sea; from the way plants grow with their roots firmly in the soil and their branches reaching up towards the Sun, to the way animals have developed their bones and musculatures. In addition to these physical manifestations, everything that we know and understand about the world around us is influenced by gravity. How chemical reactions are observed to occur, how crystals grow is influenced by gravity. Our behaviors, responses, and perceptions are all influenced by gravity. What we think we know about the world around us is constantly affected by a variable, gravity, that we can only study independently by going into space.

Space, the solar system, is our birthright. It may be one that we have to share with "siblings," but we don't know that yet. Whether or not it is ours alone, or ours to share with other life forms, we have to learn how to live in and explore it.

Personal Information

I have a family; a husband who is a computer scientist and entrepreneur, a daughter who is a soccer star, singer/actress, and has the debating potential to be a lawyer, and a dog of mixed heritage. I just learned to scuba dive, so that I could visit the Scott Carpenter Station Space Analog Habitat--it's about the size of a small bedroom, and was (perhaps is, depending on when you read this) in a lagoon in Key Largo, Florida, under about 21 feet of water. The station uses inner space to explore closed environment life support technologies and to perform classroom outreach through telephone and Internet links to the aquanauts. When not in water, the station can travel to classrooms on a flatbed trailer. I love diving, and may take it up as a hobby. Too bad the water around Northern California is so cold, brrrrrr.


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