STEMinist Profile: Lara Eakins, Astronomy Outreach and Instructional Technology

Lara Eakins

Lara Eakins

Astronomy Outreach and Instructional Technology

The University of Texas, Department of Astronomy

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
It’s hard to nail it down exactly since I was interested in science from a very early age. My mother was interested in science, particularly space, and science fiction and I know some of that rubbed off on me. I was lucky to be growing up in a great age of the exploration of the solar system when we had spacecraft fly-by photos of several of the planets and the Viking landers on Mars. And then when I was 8 years old, Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” aired. It was sometime in high school that I finally decided that I wanted to study astronomy in college and have been either studying or working in astronomy ever since!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There are a few dating back to my research days as an undergrad that I am particularly fond of. I was working with the astrometry team measuring positions of asteroids, comets, and the moons of the outer planets as part of several projects including getting accurate positions of two asteroids that the Galileo spacecraft was going to fly past on its way to Jupiter and gathering data that was eventually used by the Shoemaker mission. We also did some of the early measurements of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which eventually impacted Jupiter in July 1994. We measured newly-discovered asteroids to calculate their orbits to see if they were Earth impact hazards and could say that we were doing our part to potentially help save the planet!

Role models and heroes:
I have to mention Carl Sagan, not just because of the inspiration of “Cosmos” but also because he was the first scientist that I can remember who did a lot of public outreach and speaking – something I do now. I would also say Carolyn Porco who is now the leader of the Cassini Imaging Team that brings us all of those amazing images of Saturn and its moons and rings, but I first remember her from her early career work on the Voyager missions. She was the first woman I remember seeing doing the type of stuff that *I* wanted to do.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid to express your interest in and love of STEM fields, even if you are discouraged. I don’t think the older “girls don’t do that” attitude is explicitly stated now (at least I hope not!), but there can be more subtle signs and attitudes that might discourage you. But if you truly love STEM topics and want to make a career in one of those fields – do it!

Favorite website or app:
For work the one that I use the most is – It’s a great site with great information about the sun and how it interacts with the Earth, which is something I talk about frequently with kids on field trips to visit our solar telescope.

Twitter: @LaraEakins

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