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Meet Sylvia Johnson

Photo of Dr. Sylvia Johnson

Branch Chief for the Thermal Protection Materials and Systems Branch
NASA Ames Research Center

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Who I Am and What I Do
I am a Branch Chief for the Thermal Protection Materials and Systems Branch, a research and development organization at NASA Ames Research Center located at the heart of Silicon Valley, in Mountain View, CA.

My background includes 18 years at SRI International where I gained expertise in the mechanical behavior of ceramics, application of preceramic polymers, sintering kinetics and phase equilibria, ceramic forming techniques, joining of ceramics, ceramic processing, powder synthesis, composite fabrication, degradation behavior of ceramics, and synthesis and processing of high-temperature superconductors.

As a Child
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a chemist. I grew up in Sydney, Australia and attended Willoughby Girls High School, where I first became interested in my profession after reading an article that talked about ceramic engineering.

There are events in a young person's life that make a profound impression. For me, one of these events was the Apollo 11 landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. I can still recall listening to the radio commentary (there were no television sets at school in those days). The mission was considered important enough that we were sent home, so that we could watch it on the television.

Coupled with my interest in chemistry and all science was my love of reading, which drove me to read anything I could get my hands on. Later on, when I embarked on a professional career, I was determined to show that women could do whatever they set out to accomplish. One of my favorite quotes is: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again." I also like, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again."

Career Journey
I attended the University of New South Wales in Australia, and graduated in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in Ceramic Engineering (1st class honors). I then moved to the United States, and came to the University of California in Berkeley, where I got my masters degree in 1979 and my Ph.D. in 1983, both in Materials Science. After working for 18 years at SRI International, where I learned much of what there is to know about ceramics, its behavior, properties, methods of fabrication, and applications, I came to work for NASA. Here at Ames I enjoy immensely to be involved in the development of novel and sturdy materials able to withstand the heat and other challenges of space travel. My goal as Branch chief, is to make our Thermal Protection Systems Branch a leader in the field, and to pursue technical excellence in everything we do.

My advice to students is that you get a really good education—both in depth and in breadth, remembering that as a part of a team you depend on others for results, therefore you must continue to cultivate and develop the people side of your profession.

I am married and live in Piedmont, in Northern California, with my husband, and two children, ages 12 and 14. Reading is still one of my favorite pastimes. I also enjoy traveling, hiking, cooking, and sailing.

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October 15, 2001 Webchat

Page Last Updated: October 17, 2001


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