Meet: Louis H. Ostrach, Ph.D.
Ames Research Center Project Scientist
Who I Am:
My education and prior experience have focused on the brain and nervous system. I have an advanced degree from Stanford University focusing on the development of the nervous system in utero (during pre-natal development) and the physiological and anatomical characteristics of the nervous system. So I have indeed spent a number of years at the bench doing biomedical research on the normal and abnormal development of the nervous system before coming to NASA.
Since I came to NASA though, I've been involved with the development of other investigators' experiments for Space Life Science missions and have helped a number of investigators with a number of experiments on many missions since 1990. That's why I was asked to join the Neurolab team.
Role for Neurolab
My role on the Neurolab team is that of project scientist, so I'm responsible for defining each of the 13 primary investigators' experiment requirements and communicating those requirements to the implementation part of the team, as well as communicating those requirements to whatever other organizations are involved in the development and the implementation of mission. So it's my job to be sure that the ground personnel are aware of the experiment requirements, that the flight crew is aware of and capable of implementing those requirements, and that the Johnson Space Center and the Kennedy Space Center and NASA headquarters are kept informed of the experiment requirements and the resources that it will take to be sure that we meet the experiment objectives. I'm supposed to understand what it is the scientists are planning to do, how it is they're planning to do it, and why it is important from a scientific as well as an Earth benefits perspective.
My Career Journey
I actually have always been interested in biology. I think probably the earliest application of that interest was when I got my first aquarium when I was eight years old. From that point I was always interested and spent time exploring the animal and plant world. I took every opportunity that was made available in school and outside of school to study biological sciences, and in college that actually led me to take advantage of an opportunity for independent studies with a terrific professor where I learned the methods and the stategy of doing basic biomedical research experiments.
My major professor in college was instrumental in providing me the encouragement and the intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to learn about using the scientific method to study interesting questions about the world. Her name was Dr. Helen Cserr. She was at Brown University. Unfortunately she passed away recently.
As a child I spent a lot of time outside looking, watching, exploring the environment, primarily at that time on my bicycle. I would go out in fields and watch birds and insects: just watch and wonder about them. I would read books on science and biology, and when I would find questions that the books were raising or that I discovered myself out in the field, I'd bring those questions to the science teachers who I had, and they helped steer me along quite well.
Likes/Dislikes about career
The positive aspects clearly are the excitement of learning new information for its own sake, but also because one never knows how that new information can help improve our living conditions; whether through a medical discovery or through manipulating our environment to everything's mutual advantage. It's basically participating in an active and positive way in making sure that we, as creatures on the Earth, can improve the harmony in which we find ourselves.
The negatives are that it can be frustrating. Experiments don't always give you results on the first try, and in fact, research of any sort is mostly a significant investment of time, energy and patience. That, coupled with the inevitable resistence that people and institutions have to new ideas, always are a potentially frustrating factor. When you discover something new, people don't necessarily want to believe it and that can be frustrating, but the results ultimately can be rewarding.
I'm married to my childhood sweetheart whose name is Sandra. We met when we were 13 and stayed friends throughout school. We found each other again after many years, and we've been married now for 16 years. We have two daughters of whom I am extremely proud. My oldest daughter's name is Lillian Rose. She's twelve and just entered 7th grade. My second daughter's name is Sarah Eva and she has just entered 4th grade. Both of them are very interested in science and in the space program. In fact, we all were just down at the Kennedy Space Center for my job, and we were able to witness the recent launch of the space shuttle - STS-85.
All of us are very interested in reading and we read all the time: all kinds of things - historical novels, biographies, science fiction. We like to go to the theatre and watch live music and plays. We are selective about the movies and television shows we watch; we have no interest in watching violence except as it relates to understanding history. We like to be outdoors. We like to hike and to swim especially.
I maintain aquariums with all different kinds of habitats. I try to duplicate natural habitats inside of an aquarium. In our house we have aquariums with tropical fish, with goldfish. We have a boa constrictor. We have four turtles. We have birds. We have toads. We have geckos. We have dogs. I think it's important to say, we never capture and keep wild animals. We only keep animals that are bred for living in confinement. We like to watch nature outside.
We like music. I like old rock and roll and jazz and classical music. I don't personally play an instrument but my eldest daughter plays the flute and my youngest daughter's learning to play piano.
December 10, l997
November 19, l997