Browsing Tag

role model

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Sravanthi Sinha, Intern, NASA Frontier Development Lab

15 May, 2017

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

In her own words, Sravanthi Sinha has only ever been limited by her imagination. Sravanthi’s inspirational journey began in India before moving to the USA. After attending Holberton School, an alternative to college training software engineers, she was accepted in an internship at the NASA Frontier Development Lab. The NASA lab is aimed at developing new approaches to the asteroid threat by combining the expertise of NASA, academia, and the private research community with the powerful techniques of machine learning. Rocket Women had the chance to ask Sravanthi about her aspirations in space and her experience at NASA.

RW: Can you tell me about when your interest in space grew?

SS: It all started when NASA announced that Pluto will no longer be considered as a planet. I was baffled with the news and I started reading about the research. One article lead to an another and I was very intrigued with the technologies which are being used to make such observations. That fascination led me to a dream visualizing myself working in the field of space and technology in future. I was in primary school then.

Astronaut Kalpana Chawla is one of my role models and I always look up to her for her determination, hard work, and courage.

RW: How important are role models to young girls? Do you think more needs to be done to allow the younger generation to interact with women working in STEM?

SS: Role Models are super important in one’s life. They become a great example of making things or achieving honours of what one dreams of. I believe in the quote “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” One can gain paramount amounts of inspiration and motivation from their role models. Their experiences guide us in making correct decisions at every point of our lives. While I was in India, I never really had an opportunity to directly interact with women working in STEM. There were various science and technological conferences held in the country but I was never in a position to afford to attend one of those, where the well achieved scholarly women working in STEM speak and impart their knowledge and experiences.  Fortunately, the books and internet became my source of knowledge. I still remember the news of Kalpana Chawla’s tragic demise in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster during the re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Probably, that was the moment when I learned about Indian women working at NASA. Kalpana Chawla is one of my role models and I always look up to her for her determination, hard work, and courage.

We are only limited by our own imagination.

We are only limited by our own imagination. Providing the younger generation with an opportunity to interact with women working in the STEM, would certainly increase their knowledge and awareness. Furthermore, it will instigate their interests in pursuing a career in STEM. I look forward to the promising future where the younger generation is driven by science and technology and disregard any biases. #MoreWomenInSTEM

RW: What did your internship at NASA entail and what did you do specifically?

SS: The NASA Frontier Development Lab is aimed at developing new approaches to the asteroid threat by combining the expertise of NASA, academia, and the private research community with the powerful techniques of machine learning. I was selected as a Data Scientist to work on one of three projects titled “Finding Meteorites in the Field with an Autonomous Drone”. The objective of the project was to develop a small UAV (such as a commercially available quadcopter) equipped with cameras and onboard processors that can identify potential meteorite targets in the search areas calculated from triangulated meteor observations.

In terms of machine learning the problem was that of object detection, to identify interesting object(s) in an image. To date, state of the art object detection algorithms are based on deep learning architectures, specifically convolution based networks. Convolutional models need to be trained before they can be used to identify or classify objects in images. Typically, these networks require tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of images to train an accurate model. Unfortunately in our case, this database of useful images did not exist. In an attempt to avoid weeks of data collection and curation we decided to investigate approaches that do not require training such as traditional Computer Vision Techniques – Anomaly Detection and Hand Crafted Feature Detection. I worked on the Hand Crafted Feature Detection approach.

After striving to develop a model that could detect meteorites without having to be trained, we eventually conceded that we would not be able to build a generalised model using the traditional machine learning and computer vision approaches. We determined to proceed with Deep Learning which needed collection of data and GPU power. I was involved with data collection and augmenting the dataset by photoshopping images of meteorite on different terrains. I was accountable to administer the Nvidia Jetson TX1 which was used for the on board processing. While we were still training the model on the dataset, I came up with an idea of having a web app as an User Interface for this project The ADELIE Meteorite Hunter web application was built to carry on the off-board processing of the images collected in the field. It serves the purpose of analysing the images collected from drone and archiving the meteorite images which could become a potential data-set for future learning.

RW: What steps did you take that landed you such a prestigious internship?

SS: My first acquaintance with NASA was during my primary schooling when NASA announced that the Pluto would no longer be called a planet. I learned that it was the ultimate place where an intense research in space is carried out. Since then I have always dreamed and desired to work at NASA. I would totally credit Holberton School for allowing me to live my dream of working at NASA/SETI. When I joined the school, I had no idea what was in store for me, I did expect to become a Full stack developer and realise my dreams in Silicon Valley, but I wasn’t sure that it could happen in just 7 months of joining it. The school has got tremendous support from the mentors. I got the serendipitous opportunity to interact directly with two of Holberton’s great mentors, Gregory Renard and Louis Monier (Founder of Alta Vista).

As an initial step of my experimentation in deep learning, I employed a neural style algorithm to make an image of me as it would look if Vincent van Gogh painted it. When I heard about NASA FDL program from one of the founder of the school Julien Barbier, I was awestruck and determined to get this. The application needed a personal statement, team and collaboration work and a concept note to be submitted. For the concept note, I had to choose from one of the 3 challenges/projects provided and make a brief statement of my solution to it. Louis Monier played a key role in guiding me throughout the completion of the concept note. While I wanted to explore the techniques in Deep Learning he even offered me to use his GPU machine remotely. I was quite sure, that I would get it.

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

RW: How invaluable was this internship and what was your favorite aspect?

SS: Being on an NASA internship and working at SETI gave a plenty of opportunities to meet extraordinary people such as Ed Lu (former NASA astronaut) who founded B612 Foundation, Steve Juvertson (invested in SpaceX, Tesla, D-Wave, Skype, Box and a number “New Space” leaders – including Planet Labs). Getting a special talk from Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart and watching the movie Contact with astronomer Jill Tarter (on which the lead character is based!) and the former director of the Center for SETI Research.

Working with Peter Jenniskens (mentor) and my teammates Christopher Watkins from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation(CSIRO), Amar Shah from Cambridge University, Robert Citron from University of California, Berkeley on a project solving the problems in Planetary Defense. And of course living at NASA Ames Research Center, where 2 years back I just had the opportunity to visit on its 75th Anniversary.

RW: What did you take away from your internship?

SS: The internship gave me real-time exposure to the space industry. I felt the absolute need for more software “techies” to get involved with the space industry to bring in the latest technologies and leverage the NASA expertise and contribute to the space exploration.

Desire combined with effort pays off. Raise your hand when opportunities arise and make it known you are interested.

RW: Following this internship, what are your goals for the future and how has the internship helped you to achieve these goals?

SS: I desire to experience the universe of Star Wars and Star Trek. I believe that the “force is with me” in contributing to the AI research and hope that AI would reach the capability to turn my belief into reality.

During my internship I did have a great chance to work and learn from the machine learning and planetary science expertise. The project in which I was involved during my internship is still in progress and once I am back in the US from India I would like to continue my work on it and find a meteorite. And I would like to continue my journey in exploring the Artificial Intelligence and build real-time applications too.

RW: Do you have any advice for others who may want to follow in your footsteps?

SS: I would like to mention the words from A.P.J Abdul Kalam (Missile Man of India) “It’s a crime to dream small”. If one doesn’t dream about it, they never can make it. Desire combined with effort pays off. Raise your hand when opportunities arise and make it known you are interested.

RW: If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?

SS: Oh wow!! A great and probably important piece of advice to myself would be: To never stop questioning and to keep looking up.

Inspiration

Confidence Is The Missing Key Factor

5 May, 2017
#BeBoldForChange was the theme to this year's International Women's Day. This great infographic by Trade Machines FI GmbH introduces the difficulties women have to face when deciding to enter the highly male-dominated field of engineering - an explanation for why only 13% of US engineers are female. (Copyright Trade Machines FI GmbH)

#BeBoldForChange was the theme to this year’s International Women’s Day. This great infographic by Trade Machines FI GmbH introduces the difficulties women have to face when deciding to enter the highly male-dominated field of engineering – an explanation for why only 13% of US engineers are female. (Copyright Trade Machines FI GmbH)

We may be aware of the fact that women are under-represented in STEM fields, but seeing the exact numbers of female representation is still startling: on average women comprise 19% of STEM students and 20% of engineering students in the United States. Other tech-related fields attract even fewer women. Women within electrical engineering fields represent solely 12% of the students while within computer sciences only 10%.

When it comes to engineering, not only are fewer women choosing these study fields than men, but it turns out, that even after finishing college 35% of women either choose to not enter the field or leave eventually, while this number is 10% for men. So what could be the reason behind this worldwide trend?

The American Sociological Association released a study (pdf) with the title ‘Women Aren’t Becoming Engineers Because of Confidence Issues’. The study pointed towards the lack of ‘professional role confidence’ as an issue for female engineering students. This eludes to female students not having as much confidence in their engineering competence as their male counterparts and doubting the fact that engineering is the career that fits them best.

But it’s worth looking at what could lead to such a lack of confidence. Why are women more affected by this than men?

As the study and the following infographic explains, there are several components to this complicated issue. The main reason might be, that a stereotype threat is still present according to which engineering is still assumed to be a male career. As the study said, “competence in engineering is associated in people’s minds with men and masculinity more than it is with women and femininity”.

While there is no quick-fix solution to this issue, there are actions we can take to support young women. In order to not lose those who are currently studying or who are already working in STEM (also known as the leaky pipeline syndrome), we need to make work environments more accepting and eliminate any residual “macho culture”.

It is also important that role models, successful women in STEM careers are visible and tangible to younger women considering their future career paths. It can be an excellent way for younger women to realize that engineering is just as much for women as it is for men.

We can additionally encourage girls to consider a STEM career in an even earlier phase of their life. According to Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, we need to start by raising girls differently. While boys are taught to be “brave”, women are often told to be “good” and therefore women ‘seek perfection and avoid taking risks’ with this potentially leading to missing out on great opportunities.

Female under-representation in engineering is clearly not because of a lack of capability but, as the study eludes to, because of girls not believing in themselves. In the words of Canadian-Indian poet Rupi Kaur, “What’s the greatest lesson a woman should learn? That since day one she’s already had everything she needs within herself. It’s the world that convinced her that she did not.” Not only do we need to change this in order to encourage girls to see themselves as engineers in the future, but also in order to ensure the next generation are more confident and believe in their potential. We need women supporting other women. How can you help a girl that you know to reach their potential?

(Disclaimer: This post was written in association with Trade Machines FI GmbH)

Education, STEM Programmes

Redrawing The Balance 2017

26 March, 2017

What movies are your kids or nieces watching right now? Are they watching Angela the Astronaut, Carla the Coder, Sally the Scientist or Cathy the Carpenter?

Angela The Astronaut [MullenLowe London]

Angela The Astronaut [MullenLowe London]

Although I’d love these to be actual movie characters, they are in fact characters created for the 2017 #RedrawTheBalance campaign by four fabulous female illustrators from around the globe, namely Lizzie Campbell (UK), Be Towers (Spain), Ariane Pelissoni (Brazil) and Abigail de la Cruz (Philippines). This year’s #RedrawTheBalance campaign, It’s Time To Get Animated, was developed by leading creative agency MullenLowe London for Inspiring Girls, a global charity founded by Miriam Gonzalez-Durant. The charity also launched an innovative national campaign to ‘connect British girls with female role models who could inspire them with the possibilities of what they could become’.

Following last year’s groundbreaking #RedrawTheBalance campaign focusing on gender stereotypes that form between the ages of 5-7, (read Rocket Women’s take on the 2016 campaign here) with a related film that was seen by 30 million people, this year’s campaign launched on International Women’s Day, focuses on gender inequality in pop culture, a place where most children find their first heroes.

Less than 30% of speaking film roles are given to women in Hollywood, making it no surprise that lead characters are predominantly male. However, the #RedrawTheBalance campaign film narrated by animator Sophie Marka, reveals that in children’s animated films only 29% of all characters are women, and usually portrayed as the sidekick or damsel in distress. This is especially poignant, considering the lower age demographic that these cartoons are targeted towards. These animated role models shape young minds and mould their aspirations.

It’s been shown that children seek their first role models in cartoons, and as the film says, “If they don’t see women leading, achieving and succeeding then girls and boys might think that women are incapable of doing that at all.”

The narrator, animator Sophie Marka, describes, “It’s important for children, especially young girls, to see female role models because it’s creating an image in their head so they know that they can do certain things and become what they want. Children should see women in animated films because films should be the reflection of our society. For me it’s really important to talk about this subject to raise awareness.”

In the creative industry itself, only 20% of animators are female. Challenging this, the campaign was powerfully developed and produced at MullenLowe London by an all-female team, including the ‘animator, four female illustrators, editor, director, sound designers, musicians and producers’.

Richard Denney, ECD of MullenLowe London commented, “The creative and media industry clearly plays an important role in a child’s early perception of the world and how they see their place in it. The stats are shocking, both onscreen and behind the scenes, and we have a huge responsibility to act so that girls aim high and become the future. Other than a couple of token men including myself, we made sure the team surrounding this incredible project was built on female talent. You have to practice what you preach.

The audience is invited to share the film, allowing it to reach studio bosses who have the influence to commit to drawing women as lead roles in the future. After all as the film rightly states, women are ‘just as capable of doing an infinite number of things, and beyond’.

Sally The Scientist [MullenLowe London]

Sally The Scientist [MullenLowe London]

Volunteers can sign up here to make a difference and pledge just one hour a year to talk at a school to a ‘group of girls about their life, career, ups and downs, choices and experiences in the workplace’. The charity’s goal is to see women from a wide range of occupations going into state schools collectively talking to 250,000 young women. You can also create your own #RedrawTheBalance character here and show the world who you want to be.

Carla The Coder [MullenLowe London]

Carla The Coder [MullenLowe London]

Redraw The Balance

 

Inspirational women, Media

Inspiring Women To Reach For The Stars In Silicon Republic

10 March, 2016

Vinita Marwaha Madill at the at DLR (German Aerospace Centre) in Cologne, Germany, working on ISS Operations

Vinita Marwaha Madill at the at DLR (German Aerospace Centre) in Cologne, Germany, working on ISS Operations [Silicon Republic]

Rocket Women is honoured to be featured by Ireland’s biggest science and technology news website, Silicon Republic. The article is part of their ‘Women Invent’ series, which highlights and profiles women in STEM, aiming to encourage young women to be more aware of STEM and pursue careers in it.

Here’s an excerpt from the article in which I discuss the importance of encouraging girls to consider a career in STEM, my reasoning behind starting Rocket Women and the path to achieving my goals in the space industry:

The sky is no limit for space consultant Vinita Marwaha Madill, who is keen for young women interested in STEM to have role models.

‘In space, no-one can hear your bones weaken, but some exercise and a specially-designed spacesuit can help – and this is where space engineering consultant Vinita Marwaha Madill comes in.

“Astronauts carrying out six-month missions on the International Space Station [ISS], including Tim Peake, can grow up to 5cm to 7cm in height, with the spinal growth causing tension in the vertebrae and back pain,” explains Marwaha, adding that, in microgravity, humans can lose 1-2pc of their bone mass per month and their muscles can waste.

Exercise can help protect against these changes, but what else can be done? Marwaha has been involved in designing a ‘gravity-loading countermeasure skinsuit’ with the European Space Agency to mimic the effects of gravity on the body and help prevent elongation of the spine.

The suit, which draws on several years of research and development, was evaluated last year onboard the ISS by Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen.

“With a force close to that felt on Earth, the suit effectively squeezes an astronaut’s body gradually in hundreds of stages from the shoulders to the feet,” explains Marwaha. “The suit could also be used alongside current exercise countermeasures on the ISS to help prevent bone loss. Bone responds to loading and the suit’s pressure on the skeleton could help to stimulate bone growth.”

Vinita Marwaha  Madill installing and developing the astronaut procedures for EML (Electromagnetic Levitator) using the training model at the European Astronaut Centre

Vinita Marwaha Madill installing and developing the astronaut procedures for EML (Electromagnetic Levitator) using the training model at the European Astronaut Centre [Silicon Republic]

Marwaha Madill has also helped astronauts to get to grips with spacewalk (EVA) skills at the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.

“The astronauts train to carry out EVA,s or spacewalks, underwater,” she explains, because training underwater provides a microgravity-type experience. “Astronauts initially learned how to translate, or move along, the Station using its handrails, move in the spacesuit and operate tools, before eventually moving on to training for full-length spacewalks.”

Currently based in the UK and Canada, Marwaha has worked too on ISS operations at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), guiding and training astronauts through experiments on the Station as it orbits Earth.

Marwaha credits role models such as astronauts Helen Sharman and Sally Ride for inspiring her to work in the space sector.

Aged 12, Marwaha went to the library and printed the astronaut candidate guidelines (you can see a contemporary version here) from NASA’s website, then stuck them to the inside cover of her school folder. She recalls them as being a daily reminder of how to reach her goal and set her focus on achieving them. “Those guidelines set the direction for my career,” she says.

Today, as well as working as a consultant focusing on space engineering, Marwaha is heavily involved in STEM Outreach through talks and through her website Rocket Women, for which she interviews women in STEM and space around the world.

“Only 6pc of the UK engineering workforce are female, meaning that UK companies are missing out on almost 50pc of their engineering talent. This is coupled with the fact that girls make up under 20pc of students taking physics A-level,” she says.

“My passion, and the goal of my website Rocket Women, is to try and reverse this trend by inspiring girls globally to consider a career in STEM. I think you need those role models out there, tangible and visible, to be able to inspire the next generation of young girls to become astronauts, or be whatever they want to be. I started Rocket Women to give these women a voice and a platform to spread their advice.”

Read the full Silicon Republic article here.

Astronauts, How To Be A Rocket Woman, Inspiration

Why The UK Needed A High Profile British Astronaut

15 December, 2015

As a child I was an avid reader and read every space book I could get my hands on. At the age of 6, I remember reading that Helen Sharman was the UK’s first astronaut and had travelled to space a mere 2 years before, in 1991. That moment changed my life. Rather than astronauts being primarily American NASA Shuttle crew that I saw on TV, or hearing stories of the Moon landing 20 years ago from adults around me, suddenly in the image in front of me was a woman in her 20s with short brown hair. A British woman with the Union Jack patch clearly visible on her left arm of her Sokol spacesuit. I had heard of Michael Foale, born in the UK becoming a US citizen to meet NASA Astronaut qualifications, but never of a British astronaut. I didn’t know it was possible. But in that moment looking at the image of Helen Sharman in her Sokol spacesuit, I realised that that woman could be me. Being a girl born at the end of the 80s in the UK I realised right then that maybe, just maybe, I could be an astronaut too. That changed something inside me. Here was a woman in front of me born in Sheffield, who had studied chemistry, replied to a radio advert calling for UK astronauts, beat 13,000 applicants and had recently gone to space.

Helen Sharman recently with her Sokol spacesuit

Helen Sharman recently with her Sokol spacesuit

Even at the age of 6, I didn’t understand why nobody around me was talking about her mission. She had launched only a couple of years ago when I was 3 but I had never heard about it at school or on TV. I didn’t understand why this woman wasn’t treated like a star and talked about everywhere, possibly naively. I managed to find every scrap of information I could find about her. In an age before the internet I went to library after library (shuttled by my parents), reading about her story in small paragraphs as part of a larger book on space. What she was to me, even though I didn’t know it yet, was a role model. She had showed me that my dreams were possible. Even when I had wonderful supportive parents and teachers encouraging my interests, space went from an interest over the next few years to a career. Knowing that there had been a British astronaut, female at that, helped me push through any negativity around my chosen career path when I was younger. Even if the career councillor at school wanted me to become a dentist, I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least work in human spaceflight. And eventually I did, even working with the next British ESA astronaut Tim Peake at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany along with supporting astronauts on the ISS. But I wouldn’t have had that impetus and drive if I hadn’t known that someone had come before me. There had been a female British astronaut and maybe there could be again. Here was a British woman involved in human spaceflight and that had flown to space. It was possible.

The importance of role models at a young age is immeasurable. Which is why I’m so excited for Tim Peake’s flight and the fact that Helen Sharman is finally being talked about 24 years on from her mission. The outreach for Tim’s Principia mission by the UK Space Agency has been amazing and has the highest budget of any ESA astronaut mission. Tim and his Principia mission will hopefully go on to inspire the next generation to reach for the stars and follow their dreams in space, knowing that it is indeed possible.

Fulfilling a lifelong dream at the age of 23. Working with Astronaut Tim Peake at the European Space Agency's (ESA) European Astronaut Centre (EAC).

Fulfilling a lifelong dream at the age of 23. Working with Astronaut Tim Peake at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Astronaut Centre (EAC).

Today the first British European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Tim Peake launched to the ISS with London’s Science Museum hosting 2000 jubilant children following his every move. Simply fantastic. In less than 5 years the UK has gone from not contributing to Human Spaceflight through ESA, to having a high profile British astronaut launch to the ISS supported by a sustainable National Space Strategy, a first for the UK. That’s something to be proud about. Tim’s carrying a whole nation’s dreams with him but most importantly inspiring thousands of children to consider a career in space and follow in his footsteps. I wonder how many children watched the launch today and decided that they wanted to be the next Tim Peake?

A smiling Tim Peake, First British ESA Astronaut, gives a thumbs up launching to the ISS on 15th December 2015

A smiling Tim Peake, First British ESA Astronaut, gives a thumbs up launching to the ISS on 15th December 2015

How To Be A Rocket Woman

How To Be A Rocket Woman: Role Models

18 October, 2013

NASA’s New Astronaut Class – The First With A 1:1 Male-Female Ratio! [space.com]

Having been asked to speak at the first official Ada Lovelace Day (15th Oct) celebration in Canada this year, I spent some time thinking about exactly what message I wanted kids, parents, teenagers & women in tech attending to hear. I decided to tell them my story. But more importantly why I decided to start Rocket Women; to give back to the women that had inspired me along my journey, helping me to reach where I am today. I’ve decided that the best way to do that is by inspiring others.

Focusing on role models, I believe that positive female role models are essential to provide women with examples to look up to when they’re making the most critical decisions in their education, lives or careers. For myself Sunita Williams has always been an inspiration and I was lucky enough to meet her whilst working at the European Space Agency. She went on to give me some fantastic advice to write my engineering Masters thesis on Future Lunar EVA Suit Design and Operations. What should be highlighted though is not only the number of female role models available for women right now, but ensuring that there will be role models in the future for future generations to look up to and aim towards.

In the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of  the First Woman In Space, Valentina Tereshkova (& the 30th Anniversary of the First American Woman in Space, Sally Ride), NASA also announced their new astronaut class with the highest percentage of female astronauts ever selected by the agency. Four out of the new eight astronauts are female with a breadth of experience among them, with women now representing 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps. The four women chosen are Christina M. Hammock, NOAA station chief in American Samoa,  Nicole Aunapu Mann, US Marine and F18 fighter pilot, Dr.Jessica Meir PhD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Anne C. McClain, US Army and OH-58 Helicopter Pilot.  Dr.Jessica Meir PhD is also a graduate of the International Space University (ISU) (MSS00), making me proud to be an ISU alumnus myself!

Taking into account the significant impact that this decision will have on future generations, hopefully this trend towards equality will continue. Each decision, whether it be that a new astronaut corps has a 50% male-female ratio or whether companies decide to promote and hire women into high profile and visible leadership roles, will influence the future of these industries and their overall success to come.