Live From...the Stratosphere
Scott Sandford, Biography



Name: Scott Sanford

Position: Principal Investigator

My job requires that I wear a number of different hats. A major fraction of my time is spent co-operating (with Louis Allamandola) the Astrochemistry Laboratory in the Astrophysics Branch at NASA/Ames. Our lab contains 5 experimental set ups that can simulate the conditions present on many of the planets, on comets, and in interstellar space. Each set up is capable of reproducing the extremely high vacuums and low temperatures found in many locations in space. We use this equipment to make 'analogs' of the materials we think are in space so we can study them, especially using the techniques of spectroscopy. The results we obtain can then be compared to information obtained from telescopes and used to identify what materials are 'out there.'

Not surprisingly, I also spend an appreciable fraction of my time obtaining and analyzing telescopic data using both ground-based (Mt. Lemmon, UKIRT, IRTF) and airborne (KAO) observatories. These data are then compared to our laboratory results. Some of this work I do on my own and some I do with other scientists.

At the moment I am also spending a lot of my time serving as a 'Co-Investigator' on several potential space missions. One is called STARDUST and it is a mission to fly a spacecraft to a comet named Wild-2. STARDUST will collect some of the dust that surrounds the comet and return it to Earth so scientists can study it here. The mission won't start until the year 1999 and it won't return to Earth until the year 2006. Thus, it's possible that by the time STARDUST returns some of the students who read about this may be scientists helping to study the dust!

There are lots of good things about my job. I get to do a large variety of interesting things that change from day to day, so I never get bored. My job also takes me to lots of interesting places and I get to meet and work with people from all around the world. One of the best things about my job is that I get to discover entirely new things. It's a great feeling to discover something and realize that you now know something that nobody it the world ever knew before!

Probably the worst thing about my job is that because I work for NASA as a civil servant, my job often involves a lot of bureaucratic paperwork. That part is no fun at all!

Finally, my work occasionally takes me to strange places. I've been to Antarctica twice as a member of expeditions that go there to search for meteorites. Both times I made it all the way to the South Pole and I've helped find many hundreds of meteorites. Several of the meteorites turned out to be quite special; one was from the Moon and one was from Mars!

I grew up in the New Mexico desert where we had 2 horses, 2 mules, a dog, and a cat (also rattlesnakes, tarantulas, scorpions, etc.). In the town I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, I was always surrounded by scientists. I knew that they really liked their jobs and the things they did sounded pretty cool, so I decided very early on I wanted to be a scientist too. Astronomy wasn't the only part of science I liked, but it was one of my favorites. When I was younger I did a number of things that ultimately helped me prepare for a career in astronomy, although at the time I didn't do them as part of a conscious effort to become an astronomer. When I was about 10 I got a small 2" refracting telescope and I used it to observe the Moon and stars. Later in Junior High I bought a larger 6" reflecting telescope. I also did a lot of reading on my own and ultimately read just about every book on astronomy that was in my local library. In High School I joined the astronomy club and that was a good way to meet with other people interested in the same things, participate in 'star parties,' etc. Finally, I was lucky enough to get a few summer jobs that involved scientific research (although not in the field of astronomy). I didn't do anything particularly complicated in my first jobs, but they helped teach me about how science is really done (which is not very much like people see on television or in the movies!).

I was fortunate enough to have a number of good teachers over the years who provided inspiration and a good learning environment. I don't recall any of them specifically encouraging me to become an astronomer, but I was fairly strongly self-motivated to becoming a scientist and they were all very supportive. I was also very lucky in that I had excellent scientific role models at my early part-time jobs. In particular, my Ph.D., thesis advisor was (and still is) a fantastic scientist and I learned a lot about the process of scientific research from him. Of course, you never stop learning (after all, that's what scientific research is!) and I am also fortunate that the scientists I presently work with are all very good and we constantly teach each other new things as well.

I'm married and I have a 4 1/2 month old son named Nathan. He's a blast! I like to hike, camp, and cross country ski. I also play a lot of handball. I read lots of books, especially science fiction. I've even published some of my own. Occasionally, when the mood strikes me, I embroider big goofy pictures on the backs of my shirts. I like to listen to music, especially rock'n'roll. For the past few years I've been learning to read music and I now play the tenor and bass recorders. I like to play lots of different kinds of games (board games, computer games, role-playing games, etc.), especially with friends.

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