Nancy B’s Science Club®
Nancy B's Scientist Friends
Meet some super scientists!
Science product designer, former science teacher, and all-around science enthusiast, Nancy has always loved science.
As a young girl, she dreamed of being a vet, a marine biologist, an astronaut, or a biomedical engineer, and spent her summers attending space camp and marine biology camp. Her passion paid off with a BA in Biology from Yale University and a Masters in Science Education from the University of Southern California.
Now, Nancy wants to spread the joys of science to kids everywhere, giving them the tools they need to get started, activities that demonstrate how much fun science can be, and inspiration from people who have made careers out of loving science as much as she does!
Meet some of these super scientists by scrolling to the right.
Joy Crisp, PhD
Mars Science Laboratory
Deputy Project Scientist
Who could have guessed that Joy's love of the rock and mountain formations that surround her native Colorado would have led her all the way to Mars?
Well, not quite all the way, but Joy has devoted her career to studying the planet and, as the Curiosity Rover Deputy Project Scientist and in previous roles on other projects, she has participated in the successful landings of four different rover projects on Mars!Read More
This "virtual geologist" studies everything from lava flow and volcanic eruption clouds on Earth to actual rocks on Mars and has worked for one of the largest space exploration agencies in the world.
Nancy asked Joy about her work, what it took to get there, and whether she thinks humans will ever get to visit the planet she loves.
Nancy: It sounds like you've always loved geology—when did that start and how did you pursue this passion?
Joy: I was surrounded by geologic scenic wonders growing up (Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak) and took family vacations to national parks in Utah and Arizona as a kid (Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, etc.), but I didn't really get interested in the science of geology until I tried an introductory geology class my second year in college.
Nancy: Speaking of college, where do you go to study Mars?
Joy: Well, I studied here on Earth, of course! And I studied Geology. I completed my BA, or undergraduate degree, at Carleton College, and then went on to receive both my master's degree and PhD from Princeton University.
Nancy: And now you study rocks on Mars—how do you do this, since humans can't actually go there?
Joy: I do this as a "virtual" geologist, examining the images and data files sent back from the rovers on my computer (rovers are automated motor vehicles that "drive" across the surface of the planet collecting information and taking pictures). The images and measurements taken by the rovers provide clues to how the rocks and soils on Mars formed and how they have been affected by the conditions and processes on Mars. It's similar to what a geologist does on Earth with their own eyes and lab equipment, but slower to collect the data.
Nancy: Tell us about a super cool rock that most people don't know about.
Joy: Marquette Island is an interesting basketball-sized rock on Mars. The texture of the rock indicates that it cooled slowly from molten rock called "magma." Scientists believe that this rock cooled deep in the crust of Mars, and then was hit by an incoming meteor, causing it to be tossed through the air and landing at the location where the rover Opportunity found it in November 2009, sitting at the surface. This rock gives us a chance to take a look at the "inside" of Mars.
Nancy: What kinds of things do you do on an average day?
Joy: It is hard to define an average day because the things I do vary a lot from day to day. Most days right now, I attend a few of the rover science operations meetings, take a look at the data and images that have come back from Curiosity rover, review the science team's latest plans, and work on plans for improving how the team of hundreds of scientists and engineers carries out daily rover operations.
Nancy: Wow! That sounds like a pretty big responsibility! What is your goal as a scientist? How do you hope all of your work will pay off?
Joy: My goal is to enable the Curiosity science team to carry out the best mission possible, to learn new things about Mars, and to inspire others with the rover's findings.
Nancy: What advice do you have for kids who might like to do what you do one day?
Joy: I recommend that you study hard and try to learn a wide range of things while you are in school, to find out what you're good at and what you really like. Have fun learning!
Nancy: And you know I have to ask this, do you think humans will visit Mars in our lifetime?
Joy: Perhaps, but it's hard to tell right now. It will cost a lot of money, but this kind of an expedition would help expand our understanding of the universe and we could all follow along with the excitement from the images and reports sent back from the explorers. It would stimulate innovations in science and technology that could help us tackle problems in the future. Kids like you might end up being those explorers, or helping to prepare for their expedition, like I do!
Margaret Kinnaird, PhD
Executive Director, Mpala Research Centre and Conservancy, Kenya, Africa
Born and raised in Kentucky, Margaret now lives half way around the world near Nanyuki, Kenya (that's in Africa!). A true nature lover, Margaret is in charge of Mpala, a privately owned, 48,000 acre ranch and research centre devoted to preserving wildlife and researching ways for people and animals to live and work together. On a given day, she might hop in her Land Cruiser and drive around the property to visit a herd of camels or observe dik-dik (tiny and very abundant antelope that live in pairs), elephant families, rare Grevy's zebras, wild dogs, graceful ostriches, hornbills, and other animals.Read More
Nancy asked Margaret about her work, the path she took to get there, and why she loves being a scientist.
Nancy: Your work sounds amazing. Have you always loved animals?
Margaret: Yes, since I was very small, I've loved nature and animals. I was shy and being outside amongst wild or domestic animals was always the most enjoyable and comfortable place for me. I loved learning/knowing the names of trees, birds and other animals. I was fascinated with rodents for some odd reason but ended up studying manatees, primates (mammals including humans, apes, and monkeys) and birds!
Nancy: Speaking of studying, what kind of schooling was necessary to qualify you for such an amazing job?
Margaret: After high school I went to Stetson University and the University of Florida, where I studied Zoology. From there I did graduate studies at the University of Michigan in Evolutionary Ecology. Finally, I completed a PhD program in Wildlife Ecology — the study of animals and how they interact with their environments — at the University of Florida and did post-doctoral work at Princeton.
Nancy: That probably means you did a dissertation, or a really big research project, at some point, and it probably involved animals. Tell me about it!
Margaret: You're right! For my dissertation, I went to eastern Kenya to see how hydroelectric dams built in a major river influenced the behavior of a very rare monkey, the Tana River Crested Mangabey. Mangabeys, beautiful, cream-colored monkeys with a whirl of bangs over their dark faces and a long tail that they carry over their backs like a big question mark, are found only along a 40-mile stretch of the Tana River where dense, jungle-like forests grow. I spent nearly two years following and observing 3 Mangabey groups, counting and identifying everything they ate, observing their fights, measuring their food, and mapping their movements. The first few months were very trying because the monkeys ran whenever they saw me. Every day I kept after them until they finally gave up and accepted me like just another forest animal. By the end of my study, I could sit within 2 feet of my groups, and watch them play, fight, sleep and eat. I found that because the upstream dams changed the way the river flowed—making it straighter instead of curvy—favorite Mangabey food trees, like figs, were declining. The Mangabeys shifted to other foods, but at the same time they were also confronted with less and less forest in which to live because people were cutting the forest for wood and to plant crops. This was the first time I had to confront the realities of wildlife and people living together and how important it is to find solutions that benefit both.
Nancy: That sounds a lot like the mission of Mpala!
Margaret: Yes, even though many of Kenya's national parks are really, really big, there are not enough of them to satisfy the needs of so many animals. That's why privately owned places like Mpala are so important. They provide even more space for animals than national parks do. At Mpala, people and their livestock live side-by-side with typical African wildlife. Imagine—we have cows and sheep living together with lions and leopards! Lots of different kinds of people live here—traditional cattle herders, commercial ranchers that raise a variety of livestock, and farmers—even flower farmers! There are also tourism operations that are visited each year by thousands of people from around the world who want to see the amazing wildlife.
With so many different interests, living together takes a lot of patience and tolerance on all sides. If not managed well, conflicts can develop. On Mpala, we're helping figure out the best way to manage our lands for the benefit of both wildlife and people.
Nancy: What kinds of research are you doing now?
Margaret: I am doing both conservation-related research and what I think of as "fun" or "curiosity driven" research. For the "fun" research, my intern, Laura Budd, and I have been trying to figure out if hornbills (a tropical bird) stay with the same mate for life. To do this research, we have to capture a large number of birds, put colored rings on their legs so we can tell them apart and see who travels and mates with whom. Once we know which birds are partners, we will begin sampling their DNA and that of their offspring to see if the moms and dads are who we expect them to be.
Another favorite research project is when my team of four and I conduct Mpala's counts of all wildlife on the ranch. On these days, I get up at 5:30, bundle up in heavy clothes (Mpala is at 5500 feet and can be chilly in the morning), hop in the Land Cruiser, open the roof hatches and climb on top with a second trained observer. Binoculars at the ready, we keep our eyes peeled for any movement or changing shadows as the driver moves down designated paths in search of wildlife. When we see a bird or animal, we stop the car and use our binoculars to measure the distance to the animals. Then we do a little geometry to figure out their exact location and figure out how many animals are around.
Nancy: Sounds like your binoculars are an important part of your job. Are there any other scientific tools you use regularly?
Margaret: Yes, my binoculars are like my jewelry—around my neck whenever I step out of my office and I could not live without them. Another cool tool that I have used in both the rainforests of Indonesia and the dry savannas of northern Kenya are camera traps. These are automatic cameras with infrared motion sensors (like those that open supermarket doors) packed in camouflaged boxes. As animals walk through the sensor beams, they trigger camera shutters and snap photos of themselves. The cameras stamp each picture with the time and date so we know when every animal was photographed. These photos give me data about which animals are where and how many, plus I can put the cameras out and go back to the office and do some other work while they continue to collect my data!
Nancy: What are some exciting things you did before you began working with Mpala?
Margaret: I spent 14 years in the Sulawesi rainforest in Indonesia—while I was there I climbed 150 feet up gigantic trees to study forest hornbills! I learned that hornbills are the "farmers of the forest"—they eat lots of ripe fruit and when they fly over the canopy, they drop seeds that then grow into forest trees. Hornbills nest in tree holes but unlike any other birds that use holes—like woodpeckers and bluebirds—females seal the entrance to their nests with a mix of mud and poop, leaving only a small slit where she is fed by her partner. By sealing herself in, a female hornbill ensures that her male will be so busy feeding her and his growing chicks that he will be entirely devoted to her and no other female.
I also lived in a small pup tent on a desert isle in the Galapagos Islands for nearly a year, studying mockingbirds. I found that Galapagos mockingbirds live in family groups. When the kids grow up (especially males), they stay with their parents and help raise their younger brothers and sisters. These "helpers at the nest" remain with their parents because it is hard to find room for their own nesting area. If a bird can't have its own chicks, the next best thing is to help raise brothers and sisters because they are kin and share genes.
Nancy: It sounds like you've done some really amazing things. What advice would you give to kids who might want to do what you are doing when they get older?
Margaret: Listen and learn from those wiser than yourself, remain patient, and stay true to your passion in life. I stuck with my dream, even when everyone thought I should do something more traditional like become a vet, and here I am!
Forensic Investigator, Sheriff's Department
Marlene is a real-life CSI! She has always been interested in forensics, or the use of science to investigate facts. That interest led her from her hometown of Miami, FL to Cal State University Los Angeles, where she received a degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Forensics. Although her role as a forensic investigator with the Sheriff's Department can sometimes be sad, she takes comfort in the fact that her investigation enables the decedent (or dead person) to tell a story they are no longer able to tell—that is, what happened?
Nancy asked Marlene about her work, the path she took to get there, and why she loves being a scientist.Read More
Nancy: I like that you help to tell the story of what happened in your cases. How do you do this?
Marlene: Well, once I arrive at the scene, I gather evidence that will help me understand what might have happened. I take photos, make a diagram of the area, complete interviews with people who were present, gather personal property and keep it safe, and finally, I review the body.
Nancy: Are there any special tools you use during your investigation?
Marlene: Investigators can use magnifiers to look for evidence, examine clothing, and even to investigate wounds, but my favorite tool is the Integrated Biometric Identification System (IBIS). It's a small, handheld machine that I take on-scene to get a digital thumbprint. Once I've taken a print the IBIS can identify the decedent within 5 minutes.
Nancy: That is a cool tool! What other cool things have you done in your career?
Marlene: I am also employed by the US Department of Health and Human Services as part of the National Disaster Medical Team. In 2012 I was sent to Haiti to help after the earthquake there.
Nancy: What advice do you have for future scientists?
Marlene: Work and study very hard! I've had to sacrifice a lot of personal time, but it was well worth it.
Clinical Director of Non-Malignant Hematology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Attending Hematologist, Brigham and Women's Hospital.
As a student, Maureen loved math and chemistry—particularly chemical reactions (kapow!). Her spark for science led her to medical school in Port Harcourt, Nigeria (she is of Nigerian descent) where she decided to specialize in diseases of the blood and cancer. After residency training, she was awarded a fellowship in Hematology/Medical Oncology at Yale University and then attended the Harvard School of Public Health. Now, Dr. Maureen spends her days seeing patients, teaching new doctors, and testing new medicines. Although the paperwork that goes with her job is not her favorite thing, she does get to use a microscope every day!Read More
Nancy asked Maureen about her work, the path she took to get there, and why she loves being a scientist.
Nancy: What is your goal as a doctor?
Maureen: To help patients with blood diseases get better using the tools and knowledge we have now. Also, to develop new strategies to treat patients in the future.
Nancy: People may not know that in many cases, doctors are scientists. How do you use science to help your patients?
Maureen: I use my microscope to look at my patients' blood smears and determine what's going on and what kinds of treatments might help them get better. The microscope is my coolest tool!
Nancy: You're also a teacher, right?
Maureen: Yes, I teach residents, or new doctors, in a clinic. I help them learn how to diagnose their patients—what questions to ask, which tests to do, and how to handle emergency situations.
Nancy: What is the most exciting thing you've done in your career?
Maureen: Well, it wasn't at work, but this past Mother's Day I successfully resuscitated a woman who choked and collapsed in a restaurant! I performed the Heimlich maneuver and CPR until the ambulance arrived.
Nancy: Saving people and finding cures for diseases—your job must be very rewarding! What are some of the most important things you did to get where you are today?
Maureen: I worked hard and played fair. I also had a little bit of luck and lots of blessings!
Senior Chief Scientist at OCEANA International
(the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation!)
Margot has been using science to help protect the world's oceans for the last 15 years, living and working in more than 29 different countries. She began her career with a degree in Biology from Vassar College and a Master's in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.Read More
After finishing her studies, she started her own business and worked with environmental groups including the World Wildlife Fund, Seattle Audubon, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium on projects ranging from creating lists of environmentally friendly sea foods to helping protect coral reefs from changes in the temperature of our oceans.
Nancy sat down with Margot to talk about her work, the path she took to get there, and why she loves being a scientist.
Nancy: What is your goal as a scientist?
Margot: I want to save the ocean by partnering with other scientists who are also committed to changing the world.
Nancy: Wow! What kinds of things do you do on an average day to help you achieve this goal?
Margot: I research the marine environment in different countries. I read about fish and corals around the world in scientific papers and online. Then I learn more by talking to people on the phone and visiting in person for a week or two.
Nancy: What is the most exciting thing you've done as a scientist?
Margot: I got to see a brand new species of anemone while scuba diving in the fjords of Patagonia (that's a region in South America).
Nancy: That's so cool! I'm sure it's not great all the time, though. What is your least favorite responsibility at work?
Margot: I don't like spending so much time indoors on the computer.
Nancy: What advice do you have for kids who are interested in marine biology?
Margot: Become a good writer, listener, and ask lots of questions. Find what you care about most and keep pushing toward it, however you can. And be friendly to everyone—some of them will help you someday.
Fun Facts: Anatomy
Did you know humans have 46 chromosomes, peas have 14, and crayfish have 200?
Fun Facts: Genetics
Did you know identical twins can be alike in almost every way except their fingerprints?!
Fun Facts: Zoology
An ostrich's eye is larger than its brain! This is the definition of "bird brained"!
Fun Facts: Astronomy
There are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone and we can only see a fraction of them from Earth.
Fun Facts: Paleontology
The earliest cockroach fossils are about 280 million years old—that's older than the oldest dinosaur!
Fun Facts: Biosphere
The bark of a giant redwood tree is fireproof! How cool is that?
Fun Facts: Physics
Did you know that sound moves FOUR times faster through water than air?
Fun Facts: Geology
Did you know about 90% of all volcanoes eruptions occur at the bottom of the ocean where tectonic plates spread apart?
Fun Facts: Marine Biology
Life in the oceans is much more diverse than life on land and varies by location, temperature, and depth.