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Lucy McFadden
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Mission - Biographies

Lucy McFadden
Co-Investigator, Deep Impact

Lucy's Bio Up Close and Personal
Lucy McFadden

What is the coolest thing about the Deep Impact mission?
The Deep Impact mission is more than cool, it is awesome! We are conducting an experiment in space. We don't know what the outcome will be, but we are making predictions and will compare our predictions with the outcome. It is classic experimental science, and everyone will be able to observe the experiment unfold!

Where do you work?
I work in the Astronomy Department at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

How are you associated with the Deep Impact mission?
I am a Co-Investigator. That means I am a member of the science team that is responsible for defining the experiment, specifying the requirements to execute it, and analyzing the results of the experiment. I am the scientist leading the Education and Public Outreach program for the mission.

Why do you like working at U. Maryland?
Working at a research University has many advantages. I have a number of colleagues and students who share my interest in exploring the solar system. But there are also many other things going on at the University, sports events, music and theater, to name a few. It is like coming to work in a small city. But we all share an objective, to improve everyone's life through higher education.

How did you end up working in space science?
It was really a matter of chance. When I went to college, I had to list 10 courses that I would like to take and I was to be assigned three. I compiled my list and by the time I got to the end, I put down a course I knew nothing about. It was called Optical and Radio Astronomy. I had no idea how a radio had anything to do with astronomy. So I listed it. And I got it. My first three choices were extremely popular in 1970, Film Workshop, Political Justice and Dimensions of Consciousness. I guess the demand on the science courses was less.

What is your everyday work life like?
Every day, there are more things to do than I can manage to complete. I first check my calendar to see if I have any meetings. I have about six regularly scheduled meetings to monitor the progress of my two NASA missions and one proposal writing effort. If there are no regularly scheduled meetings, I then look at my to-do list and see what has the nearest completion deadline. I try to finish one thing at a time, but that is never possible. There is email correspondence, students to supervise (they get most of the hard work done), and unscheduled meetings to attend. Juggling completing science papers and calibration reports as well as taking advantage of new research opportunities and writing proposals is always a challenge. Are there any barriers to your work? Yes. Time and money. I can always think of many experiments and projects that I would like to conduct, but I have to focus my time on tasks that I am currently obligated to complete. Very hard. Then there is the matter of money. I have to raise funds from NASA to carry out my research. So if I have an idea that I want to pursue, I first have to write a proposal to get the money to complete the experiment. That takes time, so you see, time and money are the big barriers to my work.

What do you expect to learn from the Deep Impact mission?
I expect to learn something about the interior structure and composition of a comet. Is the surface the same as the interior? We will look at the comet before and after impact and compare the two.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a lepidopterist. That is a butterfly expert. I wanted to travel around the world and collect butterflies. I was President of my neighborhood butterfly club.

At what point did you determine that you would become a scientist?
When I searched my soul upon graduating from college and didn't want to do anything more than continue to study astronomy and geology, I figured I was bound to become a scientist.

Who inspired you?
My sister majored in physics in college, so I wasn't afraid of science. My high school biology teacher, Miss Plumb, invited me to be a lab assistant supervisor and allowed me to conduct experiments on my own. I created bioluminescence replicating firefly light. In college, (Hampshire College, Amherst, MA), I signed up for a class called Planetary Science. The professor was a former astronaut, Brian O'Leary, who was a science team member of the Mariner 10 mission. He offered me an internship at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I counted pixels, that formed the basis of maps of Mercury. There I met a scientist named Tom McCord who invited me to apply to graduate school at MIT when he saw how much I enjoyed working with telescopes and observing equipment. And then just the other day, Mike A'Hearn inspired me when he told me he thought I could complete a task that I thought was next to impossible to do.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
I remember the day in 2nd grade when we went to the library and I became so engrossed in a book that I lost track of time. Before that, I hated library period, it dragged on so. I was reading a Landmark series book, Betsy Ross and the Flag. I read all Landmark series books after that. I also liked Indian Captive about a little girl who was brought up by American Indians. The Borrowers was a lot of fun too.

What are your leisure time activities?
Because my kids are growing up, I am now finding that I have some leisure time on the weekends. I like to read, I am beginning to garden again, and I think about taking piano lessons, but I haven't done that yet. I'm beginning to run in fun-runs again too.

Do you have any advice for young scientists?
Make friends with mathematics and your calculator and other math tools. Read good books, for good reading promotes good writing. And don't be afraid to ask questions.

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Last Updated: 28 Jun 2010