Live From...the Stratosphere

Mike Haas, Research Scientist


Name: Mike Haas

Position: Research Scientist

I am the assistant group leader for a group consisting of 7 Ph.D. research astronomers, 3 technicians (one engineer, one machinist, and one programmer), and one graduate student. Our main activity is to operate a far-infrared cryogenic grating spectrometer for use on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. We designed and built the instrument and the on-board data system, assembled and tested all the equipment, maintain and update the equipment as needed, do preflight laboratory testing and calibration, install the instrument and data systems on the aircraft, plan the observations, fly with the experiment, acquire and analyze the data, interpret and publish the results. My primary responsibility is to supervise the day to day operations of the group. We also do some supporting ground based optical, near-infrared, and radio observations to help understand and interpret our far-infrared data. We tackle a variety of problems having to do with the star formation process.

I have always liked technical things. I found Physics to be the hardest class I took in high school, but also the most interesting. I majored in Physics in college at North Dakota State University, and then went on to get a Ph.D. in Physics in graduate school at Iowa State University. I tried several areas of Physics, including Low-Energy Nuclear Physics, Solid State Properities of the Rare Gas Solids (studying the thermal expansion and heat capacity of frozen neon, argon, etc.), and the Radio-Frequency Detection of Tornadoes as an Early Warning System. I became interested in astronomy as a third year graduate student. I did some theoretical calculations on the gas motions around quasi-stellar objects (QSOs or quasars) for my Ph.D. dissertation. My unofficial thesis advisor was a friend at NASA-Ames Research Center, so after I finished my degree, I came to California as a National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow. This was a two year appointment meant for people just out of graduate school. After I finished my post-doc (also working on the theory of QSO clouds) and was looking for a job, I got hired to work on Infrared Airborne Astronomy. I literally fell into a great job and have been at NASA-Ames ever since, first as a contractor working for my own company and now as a civil servant working for the U. S. Government.

I never thought much about making money or career goals when I was in school. I just did what sounded like fun and was easy for me. I got involved in research in a Physics Lab in college and published a paper as an undergraduate. This motivated me to pursue a career in research.

On the personal side, my major hobby is my three children - Robert,19; Karen,17; and Stephen,14. My oldest son started college last year, majoring in computer science. We have spent many hours together filling out application forms, reading course catalogs, and discussing schools during the past year. I sew with my daughter and race model cars with my younger son. At Christmas time we all love to build gingerbread houses.

I also enjoy walking and playing with our dog, cooking on weekends, camping in the Redwoods, and visiting the Minnesota lake country in the summer. I also work on my cars, house, and lawn.

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