Life, Physical and Social Science

Learn about the life, physical and social science fields.

Life, Physical and Social Science

Astronauts

Read biographies about the different astronauts at NASA.

Chemist

Chemists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another.

Conservation Scientist

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, and other natural resources.

Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists find and fix pollution and other environmental problems by figuring out what is in the air, water, and soil to make sure that our environment is safe.

Fire Archeologist

Fire archeologists provides information on vulnerable plant or animal species, or cultural resources--before, during and after wildland fire incidents.

Oceanographer

Oceanographers study a wide range of topics, including marine life and ecosystems and the chemical and physical properties of the ocean.

Physicist / Astronomer

Physicists study the natural world, from what things are made of (matter) to how things behave.

Plant Specialist (Botanist)

Botanist (Plant Specialist) Martin talks about Yosemite National Park's invasive plant program; he discusses invasive plants and their impact on the park.

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Aerospace Engineer

Meet Acey, an engineer for NASA. He talks about his job and building the James Webb Space Telescope.

What we do here is, we build the explorers [satellites, spacecraft and probes] that go onboard the spaceships. So anything that goes up and kind of orbits the earth or goes out to space and visits other planets, we’ll build here, but other folks will build our spaceships for us.

What is the James Webb Space Telescope?

The James Webb Space Telescope itself is meant to follow up the Hubble Telescope, so there are a lot of differences and similarities.

So the Hubble [Telescope] orbited [moved around] the earth; whereas James Webb [Space Telescope] to do its work, it has to go literally almost a million miles away from the earth. And it needs to do that to look in what’s called the Infrared Spectrum and it needs to operate at a very cold temperature, we’re talking like -400 degrees F [Fahrenheit] in order to do what it needs to do.

So this is a scale model [smaller version] of what the eventual James Webb Telescope will look like. What we have here is called a primary mirror and what happens is light comes in, bounces off of here [the primary mirror]; goes into the secondary mirror.  There’s a third mirror [behind the primary mirror] and all of our science instruments are located back here [behind the primary mirror]

What’s interesting here is with this big primary mirror, it’s made out of all different smaller mirrors and it’s about six times larger than the Hubble mirror.

What we have down here [below the primary mirror] is called the sun shield. We need to keep all of these instruments cool, and on this side [below the sun shield] warm. So this side, over here, [the top of] the sun shield, it’s almost like you have a million SPF sunscreen protecting all of the instruments up at the top.

What’s behind me is a very, one of the largest clean rooms on the east coast. Everyone who works in there has to have a clean room suit and put on a mask and it’s very important to keep clean because the James Webb Space Telescope is an optical item [relating to or using light]. So we don’t want anything like dust or smudges or anything like that, or oils, to get onto the mirrors.  

What advice do you have for kids?

Try your best in school and always try and participate. I think one key trait here and almost anywhere is the ability to speak and listen. So if you’re able to answer questions or ask questions in class and become comfortable doing those things, that’ll help you out in the long run, no matter what you do. If you want something in engineering, looking up things like mechanical engineering drawing classes, things like that, that help you interpret [understand] drawings, that will be beneficial.

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Archeologist

Check out archeologists Joy and Kate as they explore the Best Farm in Maryland. See what artifacts have been uncovered and the tools they used.

Joy Beasley, Cultural Resources Program Manager:
What most people think about when they think of archeologists is going out in the field and digging things up and finding bones and pots and things like that. And that's certainly a big part of what goes into archeology. But probably the bigger part and the more important part is being able to explain what those bits and pieces actually mean.

We use things like shovels and sometimes picks. We also use smaller tools like trowels or smaller digging spades.

Kate Birmingham, Archeologist:
One of the tools that we use is something called a screen. Which it's sort of like your window screen, but a little bigger. And we put the dirt in there and shake it. So what that does is it separates all the smaller dirt particles from the artifacts (handmade objects) and then you look through what remains in the screen.

Joy: This farm was actually part of a plantation (large farm or estate) that was established in 1794 by a family of French people. They had about 748 acres total and they had 90 enslaved laborers in their possession.

An eyewitness account that gave us a little bit of a clue as to the general location of where the slave quarters were, and then we really had to go out and start digging. We uncovered just a wide variety of artifacts. Everything from broken glassware and ceramics, to rusty old nails and pieces of hardware. Lots of food remains, so bones and shell.

Kate: This is a shell pendant and this is made of oyster shell, like the shell that we have here. So this would've been made, likely by one of the enslaved individuals. And they would've taken the larger shell and they would have made it into this decorative object and then inscribed all of these little lines that go down here. And the hole that they would have probably put a cord through to wear it.

This is actually an 1817 U.S. large cent, which is equivalent of what today is the penny. And you can probably tell that it's much bigger than a penny today. And that's one of the attributes (characteristics) along with the date that help us figure out when this was made.

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Brain Scientist

Meet Dave. He is a scientist who studies the brain and how addiction affects the brain.

What’s cool about Science is scientists have these ideas and they don’t know whether they’re [ideas are] true or not. And to convince other people, they do experiments [a scientific test]. They try to prove it [their idea] and it’s really fun when they finally do prove it and say “A-ha! I was right!” and then they share it [their idea] with the world and people see the world a different way.

Why did you want to study the brain?

I think I thought the brain was interesting because it’s a lot of “us,” who we are. But when you learn about how it works, all the little machinery in it, all the things it does, it actually is [a] really sophisticated machine.

I am at the National Institute on Drug Abuse so we’re interested in how the brain relates to addiction.  An addiction is when you do something that’s bad for you, but you just can’t stop.  Like some people get addicted to drugs; they take the drugs they know they’re bad for them, but they just can’t stop doing it.  

And we believe that addiction is a brain disease [illness or sickness] and that’s why we study the brain is we want to understand how the brain gets addicted to drugs and how we can get a person to be un-addicted by changing the brain.

What’s your day like?

Each day is different.  Some days I go and talk to kids at schools about brains.  Some days I talk to famous scientists. They call me with great ideas about what they discovered. It’s almost like, as if Albert Einstein would call me and say “Hey Dave! I just came up with the theory of relativity!” Everyday involves some learning, something new I learn about the world in Science.

Do you have any advice for kids?

Keep asking questions. Keep trying to discover things. Don’t accept things for just the way they are. I mean, scientists that’s what they do. They question.

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