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Meet: George Raiche

George Raiche

Research Scientist

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Who I Am
I'm a Research Scientist in the Reacting Flow Environments Branch. My job is to study how a spacecraft performs as it enters a planet's atmosphere. This is important because atmospheric entry is an extremely stressful time for the spacecraft, and it must be designed carefully to withstand entry conditions.

During entry, the spacecraft is exposed to temperatures equal to those at the surface of the sun. The interaction zone between the atmosphere and the spacecraft exhibits very unusual chemistry and physics, and effective heat shield design must take these conditions into account.

My job is to use the arcjet facilities at Ames to study and understand these interactions. I do this by making optical measurements of gas properties during arcjet material tests. I also work with vehicle designers and computer scientists to incorporate my findings into vehicle design tools.

My Career Path
As a kid, I liked to figure out how things worked, so I spent lots of time taking things apart. Later I learned how to put them back together. I was interested in both the space program and chemistry, and I ran a fair number of high-energy chemistry experiments on my own. Since I liked working in the lab with chemicals, lasers, and electronic equipment, I got my Ph.D. in physical chemistry--the application of basic physical principles to the study of chemical reactions. After graduate school, I studied combustion chemistry for a couple of years, and then taught college chemistry for several years. Three years ago I was invited to come to Ames to study the hot air chemistry important during vehicle entry.

Why I Like My Job
The best part of my career is working with very smart people! Also, the problems we study are both very interesting and very challenging, so there is always something interesting to think about. One of the negative aspects is that there are so many things to learn that it sometimes seems impossible to keep up. It helps to try to step back and take a broader view of the problems of interest, and to talk to other people about solving them.

As a Child
I liked to read almost anything, especially science fiction, and think about the things I saw around me. Probably the most important influence on me was my mother. She wasn't a scientist, but she would have made a good one--she would constantly take me to different places and show me ways to see interesting things. She would often take me into the woods and turn over rocks so that I could watch the things (like salamanders) underneath. She taught me to be curious.

Obviously, you need to work hard in school, and take all the math and science courses you can. (I never thought I was very good in math, but it's necessary.) But it is also very important to read and write well, so that you can tell people what you're doing, and so that you can understand what they do. Scientists and engineers almost always work in teams! Read books--fiction, non-fiction, whatever--that are hard to read, and make sure you understand what you're reading! And teach yourself to be curious; the question I most often ask, both of myself and others, is "Does this make sense?"

Early Influences
My parents always encouraged me to do things I found interesting. Also, I had several terrific teachers, especially for English and chemistry courses.

Future Goals
I only want to do work that I find interesting. Luckily, lots of things interest me!

I don't have any children, but I did get married just a couple of years ago. My wife, Joan, is a teacher of Spanish literature. One of our (well, mine, but she likes it too) hobbies is to watch nesting birds. In fact, a pair of red-tailed hawks lives on one of the wind tunnel buildings here at Ames, and last year we watched them raise three baby hawks. They are nesting this year too, but I haven't seen any babies yet. I just got a digital camera, so I've been learning how to post the photos online. It's been fun.

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