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Meet: Kimberly Ennico

photo of Kimberly Ennico in her lab
Payload Scientist
NASA Ames Research Center

Who I Am and What I Do
I am a research astrophysicist at NASA Ames. I actually wear "many hats" in my day-to-day job. With a background in physics, I contribute to many areas - designing instrumentation (cameras, spectrometers, systems) for measurement, testing devices (detectors, optics, electronics), analyzing data from instruments attached to telescopes both ground and space (images, spectra), and conceptualizing new mission and instrument designs for future telescopes and space probes (deep-space telescopes, airborne telescopes, small satellites). I often have the title of "Payload Scientist" or "Instrument Scientist" on a mission, where I work with both the scientists and the engineers to communicate clearly how the science drivers flow down into the design and implementation of the hardware and software to make a science mission successful. My work involves office and lab activities and travel for scientific conferences and sites for instrument testing (e.g., radiation testing of detectors, telescope site for new instrument commissioning).

Areas of expertise
Areas of expertise: infrared detectors, infrared optics, cryogenic design, optical design, data analysis, system engineering

Skills needs: Problem solving, test planning, computer programming, patience, writing and good communication skills

How I first became interested in this profession
I want to be an astronaut when I grow up. For now, in plan B, I will help design and implement new instruments for space to make measurements to support space exploration. I've been interested in astronomy since I was about 7, when I bought my first telescope. But my interest in the instrumentation aspect of astronomy and space sciences started when I was an undergraduate. I had the opportunity to work during the summers at NASA GSFC and other universities and found my skills of problem solving, perseverance and attention to detail makes testing and delivering instruments highly rewarding. There is nothing "more cool" (than of course, going there yourself) to "touch" something that got launched into space. I've had the wonderful opportunity to work on the SIRTF/Spitzer space program, as I helped test one of their instruments (the MIPS long-wavelength photometer) during my postdoc years at the University of Arizona. I am excited about LCROSS and my role as "Payload Scientist" to test and deliver the science instruments.

What helped prepare me for this job
Love of learning.
Good study and organization skills.
Hard work.
The dream and promise of space exploration.
A sense of humour.

Role Models
Good teachers, my high school chemistry teacher and my 2nd year physics professor in college, in particular, at significant times in my training.

Numerous inspiring people for which my paths have crossed, even if briefly, at a lecture series, a conference, public event, family & friend gathering, etc.

Sometimes you need more than one person to inspire you. When I meet someone new, I ask him/her about his/her "path" and the ones with the more random walk are often the most intriguing and often inspiring. For example, Sam, the dancer, turned physicist, then astronaut. Greg, the actor, tour driver, turned physicist, now astronomer. Carole, car salesperson, turned astronomer, now department head.

My education and training
2000-present, NASA Ames Research Center, Research Astrophysicist
1998-2000, University of Arizona, Postdoctoral Researcher

1998, PhD, Astrophysics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge England
1994, BA, Physics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
1990, High School Graduation, Immaculate Heart Academy, Washington Twp., NJ

Career path
During my undergraduate years at JHU, I studied physics and participated in a variety of research projects involving optical design, infrared detectors, CCD imagery, UV spectroscopy, and adaptive optics. I applied to graduate school with a keen interest in instrumentation for astronomy, and found myself, designing, building, testing and finally commissioning a multi-million dollar instrument for Cambridge University on a telescope in Hawaii. Through that project I learned key skills to bring all the sub-systems of an instrument alive and working, on a short-enough time scale for a PhD thesis. With my love of space-related applications, I found a postdoc at the Univ. of Arizona to get me experience in the space instrumentation world. During those years I helped in a design study on a large space mission (James Webb Space Telescope/JWST), learning how missions are designed, and then lived in a cleanroom at Ball Aerospace testing an instrument that would be launched a few years later on the Spitzer Space Telescope. I was hired on at NASA Ames to help design and define new instrument concepts for space telescopes, and I am doing just that.

What I like about my job
I am never bored. There are usually more than enough things for me to do. And often time, each day is different in terms of focus or topic. I am constantly learning about the world and universe around me by the projects I work on, the people I meet here, the visitors who come to give lectures, etc. that I am daily reminded how lucky I am to be working in such an exciting and diverse field.

What I don't like about my job
Often times on large projects and large organizations, communication can be challenging. And there is the problem of miscommunication that is also difficult to navigate. As NASA undergoes its new transformation to embrace the new vision for space exploration, there are lots of painful learning curves to follow and the need for better communication.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Do something you love. No job will ever be perfect. No job will last forever. Knowing you love what you do can help ease out the "bumps along the road." Study hard. Plan well. Have hope. Never give up your dream. Balance work and play. Take 5 weeks off every year.

Personal Information
Basketball, cycling, softball, camping, hiking, snowshoeing, rock climbing/bouldering, orienteering, SCUBA, flute, recorder, gardening, heraldry/genealogy, ballroom/swing dancing, writing, reading, traveling, British history, stargazing, archeology/archeoastronomy, baking, web page design, digital photography, meditation.


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