Meet: Jeffrey Smith
NASA Ames Biocomputation Center
What I do
I work closely with the director to coordinate research and technology
development at the Biocomputation Center. This involves experiments such
as Neurolab, but we also work on medical imaging tools that are used for
surgical planning and training. Right now our computer scientists are
creating software that allows surgeons we work with at Stanford University
to look at 3D images of the face and skull of their patients. This way,
they can plan out their surgeries before going into the operating room.
We call it "Virtual Surgery."
My Career Journey
In 9th grade I had an Earth science teacher who really got me excited
about studying the physical world. I was most interested in the stars
and planets and things like how different wavelengths of light were able
to bend at different angles in a prism to separate by color creating a
rainbow. That was "physics" and I thought, "if nothing else excites me
more through high school, I'll be a physics major in college." That's
what I did, but during my first year of college I had an incredible class
(with an incredible professor) on conservation and how the delicate balance
of life in any ecosystem depends on every creature, from bacteria to people.
I was fascinated by all the amazing things animals (mostly insects) did
in order to survive and compete with other species. So I added a zoology
major to my physics major at Miami University (Oxford Ohio).
The rest of my time in college was spent trying to figure out how I
could combine both my love for physics with my fascination for the living
world. Eventually I decided on "computational biology" which is a sophisticated
way of saying I use computers to study biology. I suppose the reason I
do computational biology for NASA all started back in 9th grade with my
interest in stars and planets. I've kept with that interest by aiming
my computer and biology skills at the study of life in space. And that's
what Neurolab is all about.
Likes/Dislikes about career
As a NASA representative I really enjoy talking to people about why
it's important for us to explore space and why it's important for us to
learn about what happens to all kinds of life, from people down to bacteria,
in the microgravity environment of space.
On the negative side, after high school I went to college for 10 straight
years to get four degrees including a Ph.D. That was A LOT of work, but
I've always thought of school and education as part of my career. Even
now, I'm learning new things every day. That's what "science" and "research"
Also, as a NASA scientist it would take a long time to make a million
dollars. But I absolutely positively LOVE my job.
I think my dad had a lot to do with my career--he worked at NASA, too,
and took me to visit several times a year. So I was exposed to NASA science
and engineering at a very young age. I also enjoyed reading science fiction
books by Arthur C. Clark, Robert Heinlin, and L. Ron Hubbard. But most
important, I never OVER did it. I've always loved camping, skiing, and
sports. I even played in the marching band during high school. No one
has to be completely immersed in NASA and science from a very young age
to become a NASA scientist. I think it's better to have lots of interests.
My mom is responsible for my positive attitude--without it I'd still
be saying, "I can't take Calculus, it's too hard." There are always people
who influence us to choose one career path over another, but I find it
funny how we don't really know who's doing the influencing until much
later when we're looking back.
Work hard, play hard. That was my motto through high school and college.
Plan out your time and when it's time to work--work as hard as you can.
When it's time to play--always give 110%. But most important, keep a positive
attitude. I think it actually helps make positive things happen.
My favorite hobbies are skiing, mountain biking, camping and most recently,
surfing. I also LOVE to travel. I've been to Europe, Central America and
all over the U.S. and Canada. I've learned at least as much traveling
as I have in any classroom.