Login [Register]
Don't have an account? Register now to chat, post, use our tools, and much more.
STEM and Exploring Mars: A Chat with Z. Nagin Cox of NASA
Published by KermMartian on August 10, 2016 at 1:55:24 PM CST | Discuss this article (1)

Two weeks ago, Thomas "elfprince13" Dickerson and myself, Dr. Christopher "Kerm Martian" Mitchell, attended SIGGRAPH 2016 in Anaheim, CA. We were there as media as mentioned previously, to observe and report on the proceedings of the conference. SIGGRAPH is "a five-day interdisciplinary educational experience in the latest computer graphics and interactive techniques"; it is a unique hybrid of an academic conference and industry tradeshow. Among the many highlights for us was SIGGRAPH 2016's keynote address, by Z. Nagin Cox of NASA. She spoke about her experiences as part of robotic interplanetary exploration missions.

Ms. Cox works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California as a systems engineer and manager. Among the many project she has worked on at JPL are Insight, Mars Science Laboratory, and the Mars Exploration Rovers (the collective term for Spirit and Opportunity). In her talk, Ms. Cox discussed some of her specific experiences from the missions with which she has worked. Together, we relived the excitement of the 2012 Curiosity rover landing. Ms. Cox talked about some of the technical challenges of getting rovers to Mars, writing the complex (and semi-autonomous) software that controls them, and the day-to-day operations of going where truly no human has gone before. She also spoke about the role of graphics and visualization in NASA's rover projects, including for mission planning, rover navigation, and for communicating with the public. She described the incredible feeling that you've actually gone to a planet once you start seeing the images the rovers are bringing back as they traverse that planet.

Although we did not get a chance to talk to Ms. Cox at SIGGRAPH, she kindly made time to speak to us this week. As relevant to our mission to promote STEM education by working directly with students and teachers, we discussed how she got started as an engineer and manager at JPL, and how she thinks more students can get excited about STEAM careers. Whether you're a student, a teacher, or a professional, I hope you'll be inspired by our conversation.


Cemetech: What led you to go into engineering and to work at NASA?
Ms. Cox: As I mentioned in the talk, I have been interested in working at NASA since I was 14. In fact, many of us knew that we wanted to work at NASA; a colleague mentioned they were interested since the age of 12. A lot of us have childhood dreams, but the issue is how that works out in reality. A lot of kids want to be astronauts; if you really want to go where no one has gone before, thatís robots. In my particular case, the astronauts were stuck in Earth orbit. We hope that thatís not the case for the teenagers growing up now, of course. It was clear to me for the majority of my professional life that if I really wanted to explore new places, the robots were the way to do that.
Ms. Cox: In terms of robots, I think I was the opposite of many people. I realized I wanted to work for JPL so early that I realized I needed an engineering background. Thatís a path that may not resonate with many folks, because they start with ďwhat subjects do I likeĒ and pick a track from there. For many, you start with academics, but then the job you have is the rest of your life. I was fairly versatile as a student, good at several subjects, and then I focused on engineering.
Ms. Cox: What motivated my original interest (I was a very melodramatic teenager) was wanted to do things that bring people together. Especially in this election cycle, there's a lot of ďa vs. bĒ; I grew up with cultural expectations of what girls vs. boys were supposed to do. I donít think I was able to articulate it until many years later, but my thought was, ďwhy donít we work together more?Ē. The space program really seemed to be about doing something for the whole planet. Thereís something about achieving a goal that you set as a youngster or in college that provides a level of fulfillment that isnít necessarily tied to the minutiae of your day-to-day tasks, be that engineering, paperwork, etc.

Cemetech: What do you think is the best trend we currently see in STEM education?
Ms. Cox: Social media has played a really important part in this, in that students can get access in ways that they couldnít previously. They can hear from astronauts and others, for example astronauts interacting with the public via Twitter. I had the opportunity to speak at a ďWomen in TruckingĒ conference, and saw how people are able to access others via social media. Social media also lets kids be more connected to role models, especially earlier in their lives. As appropriate to SIGGRAPH, I also think Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality has a role to play. Last night, I was showing my husband a demo ["Field Trip to Mars"] created by FrameStore VR Studio. In it, students are out on a field trip on a school bus, and all of a sudden the bus windows darken and make it appear that theyíre on Mars. The kids scream and are excited; you can really see what itís like to be on that terrain and in that environment.

Cemetech: How do you think we could best move forwards to inspire more students to STEM passions and careers from an early age?
Ms. Cox: I think it's not just STEM that's important, itís also STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math]. Some students have a very limited view of what these jobs entail; for example, students will say of computer science, ďI donít want to sit in a cubicle all dayĒ, or ďI donít want to be in meetings all dayĒ. People need to see the full picture to understand the appeal of the job. One great way that happened recently was with the #IlookLikeAnEngineer hashtag on Twitter. People need to see the full picture. Before social media, there were some people doing outreach and sharing what their jobs are actually like, but now there are many people sharing on social media.
Ms. Cox: Unfortunately, part of the conversation that you canít avoid is about money. In STEM fields, what you might be competing with is the money in areas like sports, acting, and so on. Money and fame are powerful incentives. Of course, JPL has some trouble attracting talent with Google, Apple, and other companies that do interesting work in the Bay Area, and JPL's government salaries can't match those companies' offers. On the other hand, the work is exciting, especially if you're passionate. Iím not trying to be a NASA recruiting commercial: STEM can be lucrative, and although being a celebrity is probably not in the picture, it can be remunerative to different degrees, be it in money or the pride of advancing humanity's scientific progress.

Cemetech: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today!




Permalink
2016 Articles
January 2016 January 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Projects of the Month: December 2015 published January 1, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Cemetech Contest #15, Challenge 4 published January 5, 2016 by KermMartian
» Consumer Electronics Show 2016 - A Brief Review published January 12, 2016 by Alex
» Cemetech Contest #15, Challenge 5 published January 13, 2016 by KermMartian
» TI and NASA Announce "mISSion imaginaTIon" published January 15, 2016 by KermMartian
» Graph3DC 1.0 Open Beta 2 published January 18, 2016 by KermMartian
» Light-Based Whack-a-Mole Powered by TI-84+CSE and MSP432 published January 21, 2016 by KermMartian
» Graph3DC 1.0: 3D Grapher for TI-84 Plus C SE Released published January 26, 2016 by KermMartian
» Mateo Does it Again - C SDK, Libraries, and LibLoad published January 30, 2016 by pimathbrainiac

February 2016 February 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Projects of the Month: January 2016 published February 2, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Cemetech Contest #15 Results and Winners published February 4, 2016 by KermMartian
» ArTICL SimpleI/O Demo: LEDs, Buttons, Switches, and a Motor published February 11, 2016 by KermMartian
» Cemetech User Promotions: New Moderators and more! published February 12, 2016 by Alex
» TI-Nspire OS 4.2, NASA "Fuel for the Fire" Activity published February 18, 2016 by KermMartian
» TI-Nspire CX OS 4.2, mISSion imaginaTIon, and More! published February 19, 2016 by pimathbrainiac
» Cemetech Returns to T^3 2016 in New Role published February 22, 2016 by KermMartian
» SourceCoder 3 RC 1: TI-84+CE C Programming, More published February 23, 2016 by KermMartian
» Presenting Learn @ Cemetech published February 25, 2016 by KermMartian
» Cemetech at T^3 International Conference 2016 published February 29, 2016 by KermMartian

March 2016 March 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Projects of the Month: February 2016 published March 1, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Sneak Peek at Upcoming TI-BASIC Features published March 2, 2016 by elfprince13
» Cemetech Contest #16: Chatty Cyborgs published March 2, 2016 by jonbush
» Happy Pi Day 2016 published March 14, 2016 by KermMartian
» TI-BASIC Optimization Competition published March 16, 2016 by KermMartian
» Cemetech Minecraft 1.9 Intellectual Survival Easter Launch published March 27, 2016 by KermMartian
» Checkers, Game of Life Grace TI-84 Plus CE published March 28, 2016 by KermMartian

April 2016 April 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Doors CS 7 Source Code Released published April 1, 2016 by KermMartian
» GPU Technology Conference 2016 published April 5, 2016 by Alex
» TI-84 Plus CE Minesweeper Released published April 8, 2016 by KermMartian
» TI Teases New TI-84 Plus CE Colors: Gold, ??? published April 19, 2016 by KermMartian

May 2016 May 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» New TI-84 Plus CE Colors: White and Gold published May 10, 2016 by KermMartian
» Planned Cemetech Downtime: May 21st, 2016 published May 18, 2016 by Alex
» Projects of the Month: April 2016 published May 10, 2016 by tifreak8x
» May 22 Server Events: Scavenger Hunt, Border Expansion published May 22, 2016 by KermMartian

June 2016 June 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Projects of the Month: May 2016 published June 7, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Cemetech Contest #17: On Rails published June 20, 2016 by jonbush
» ticalc.org Turns 20 published June 22, 2016 by tifreak8x
» White and Gold TI-84 Plus CE Calculators Now Available published June 24, 2016 by KermMartian

July 2016 July 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Projects of the Month: June 2016 published July 11, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Coming Soon: The TI-Innovator System published July 16, 2016 by KermMartian
» Cemetech to Cover SIGGRAPH 2016 published July 24, 2016 by KermMartian
» Hands-On with the Gold TI-84 Plus CE (2016) published July 29, 2016 by KermMartian

August 2016 August 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» PT_ Releases ICE - An Interpreter/Compiler of CE-BASIC published August 6, 2016 by pimathbrainiac
» STEM and Exploring Mars: A Chat with Z. Nagin Cox of NASA published August 10, 2016 by KermMartian
» Projects of the Month: July 2016 published August 12, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Win TI-84 Plus CEs with Photos of Math for the Win published August 13, 2016 by KermMartian
» SIGGRAPH 2016 Highlights: Basketball with OptiTrack published August 16, 2016 by elfprince13
» Clouttery: Manage All Your Devices' Batteries Effortlessly published August 19, 2016 by KermMartian
» Back to School 2016: What Graphing Calculator Should I Buy? published August 26, 2016 by KermMartian
» OS 5.2 for the TI-84 Plus CE: New TI-BASIC Commands published August 31, 2016 by KermMartian

September 2016 September 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Projects of the Month: August 2016 published September 4, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Hands-On with the TI-Innovator published September 20, 2016 by merthsoft
» Cemetech Going to World Maker Faire 2016 for 5th Year published September 26, 2016 by KermMartian

October 2016 October 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Cemetech at World Maker Faire 2016 Recap published October 8, 2016 by KermMartian
» Projects of the Month: September 2016 published October 17, 2016 by tifreak8x

November 2016 November 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» Projects of the Month: October 2016 published November 11, 2016 by tifreak8x
» Unboxing the TI-Innovator Hub and Breadboard Pack published November 25, 2016 by KermMartian

December 2016 December 2016 [Back to News Archives Index]

» ticalc.org PotY 2016 Voting Begins published December 6, 2016 by KermMartian
» Contest #18: Winter Wonderland published December 18, 2016 by jonbush
» PT_ Promoted to Global Moderator published December 23, 2016 by KermMartian
» Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and New Year from Cemetech published December 25, 2016 by KermMartian
» 2016 ticalc.org PotY Results Announced published December 30, 2016 by PT_

Advertisement