Meet: Brian Duval
NASA Ames Research Center
Career Fact Sheet Print Version Coming Soon
Who I am and what I do
Since 1991, I have been a Research Associate at
NASA Ames. I began this work as a graduate student and continue it
today as a hobby. I am not a regular employee at NASA, rather, I work
as a scientist for NASA when they are working on microbes (algae)
that live in ice and snow. Back home in Massachusetts, I work for
the Department of Environmental Protection. My specialty is aquatic
Areas of expertise
I enjoy collecting and describing “snow algae” --
single-celled microalgae that live in snow. To view snow algae it is
helpful to have a microscope with at least a 200-power lens. My training
(Master of Science from U-Massachusetts) as a microbiologist provided
the skills needed to observe, photograph, and characterize tiny snow
algae that measure only 15-30 microns in diameter, that’s 0.0012
Since collecting snow microbes is usually accomplished
in high mountains or in polar snow one needs to be well prepared for
hiking in cold weather. Thus good outdoor skills, mountaineering, orienteering/global
positioning, navigation, and survival skills are needed for comfort
How I first became interested in this profession
I was first introduced to planetary science and astrobiology
as a graduate student (1991-93) working for Chris McKay at NASA Ames,
through the NASA Planetary Biology Internship Program. As a kid I was
always interested in exploring the natural world, especially aquatic
fishing, collecting frogs, crayfish, turtles, salamanders, anything with
a slippery skin.
What helped prepare me for this job
An interest and broad education in the natural sciences
prepared me. As a snow microbiologist in the field I measure physical
parameters such as pH, temperature, snowmelt processes, and solar radiation
quality and quantity since these are factors that affect algal growth.
I am also interested in how algae may be affecting their local snow-pack
environment, always keeping the conditions on Mars and the possibility
of life there in the back of my mind.
My role models
Explorers like Norman Vaughn are my role models. During one
of the early Antarctic expeditions, around 1928, Admiral Byrd named a
mountain after him but it wasn’t until 1994, just days before his
89th birthday that Norman climbed Mount Vaughan -- a 10,302' Antarctic
peak. Thus he never gave up. Now he plans to go back for his 100th birthday!
like to be as young as he.
My education and training
I have a bachelors’ degree (BS) in Environmental Studies and an
MS in Microbiology, both from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
What I like best about my job
I like to travel and explore remote regions on Earth. The weirder the
better! Those that are Mars-like and unearthly are of particular interest.
In all these systems, somewhere, somehow, you find life. I try to imagine
how creatures/microbes live in such extreme conditions. Since my association
with NASA, I've worked in Antarctica, Alaska, Rio Tinto-Spain, South
America, Pico de Orizaba-Mexico, the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco,
and now Lassen Vocanic National Park.