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Meet: Scott Sandford

Research Astrophysicist
NASA Ames Research Center, Mt.View, CA

What I do (asked in 1996)
As a research astrophysicist, my duties are varied but include:

  • Joint responsibility for running the large Astrochemistry Laboratory in the Astrophysics Branch of the Space Sciences Division.
  • Carrying out scientific investigations (telescopic and laboratory) designed to better understand the composition of materials in space and the origins of life.
  • Scientific and consultational support for NASA programs.
  • Occasional trips to Antarctica to collect meteorites.
  • Etc. [Obviously, I'm given a fair degree of freedom to pick my own problems to work on.]

My education
I received my Ph.D. in Physics in 1985 from Washington University, St. Louis. Four years earlier, in 1981, I received an M.A. in Physics from the same university.

Previous jobs
I spent several years as a research assistant in New Mexico and then as a fellow and research associate in St. Louis. I took a nine-month appointment as a National Research Council associate before coming to NASA Ames as an astrophysicist.

My motivation
Mostly I am just driven by a deep sense of curiosity. Most of the time I feel that what I am doing is fun, not work. The path I have followed so far was not planned out in any detailed way. Mostly I simply availed myself of opportunities that interested me when they came along (of course, sometimes you help make your own opportunities!). If you find good people doing something that interests you, you can hardly go wrong if you just jump in and join them.

Goals for the next year
Our laboratory group is pursuing a number of questions associated with organic materials in space. I'd like to see us make some good progress on these studies, as our results are turning out to have some important implications for interstellar and cometary dust (and perhaps the origin of life). Also, I discovered solid H2 ice in an interstellar dust cloud last year. Lab studies indicate that H2-containing ices may be common out there and I'd like to get some more telescopic data to try and confirm that. Finally, I think I've got a new idea on how the noble gases found in meteorites got there in the first place and I'd like to test the idea out using some of our lab equipment.

Personal tidbits
Just a partial list - I'm married, no children. I read ALOT. I enjoy cross-country skiing and hiking. I'm learning to play the Tenor Recorder. I have published some science fiction and humorous articles in the Journal of Irreproducible Research.


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