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University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist receives NASA’s highest honor

Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 5:10 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Dr. Nettie La Belle-Hamer was recently awarded NASA’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for her work at the Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF) over the last 20 years.

According to Dr. La Belle-Hamer, she was nominated for her work in synthetic aperture radar data while at ASF. “I was nominated by the group of scientists at NASA who I have been working with for the last 20 plus years, she explained, “and they are acknowledging the work that we do here at UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) - specifically, supporting NASA synthetic aperture radar data, which is a really specific dataset that’s helpful for many different types of Earth observations. It’s traditionally been very difficult for scientists to use the data, so we here have really focused on making it usable, making it accessible, making sure people understand the value and the depth of the information that’s in there.”

Dr. La Belle-Hamer’s research has been particularly valuable for it’s use in earth observation and imaging.

“Radar is in the electromagnetic spectrum, just like the light that we see,” she elbaorated. “The difference is that it’s a different frequency or a different wavelength. So what it penetrates through and what it gets blocked by are different depending on what the frequency is. With radar, we can see through clouds, we don’t need light in order to see. If you think about a camera, if there’s not already natural light, then you have a flash that adds the money to the environments that you can see with radar, because it’s an active sensor we don’t need. Like night and day, clouds... you can see why that would be really useful to image the earth, especially someplace like Alaska.”

This award serves almost as a crown jewel for a successful career, as Dr. La Belle-Hamer has recently moved on from overseeing ASF to becoming the Vice Chancellor For Research at UAF.

She said it was “a huge celebration at the end of a long time working on a project I love, and so you just couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally to make this transition. 20 years into being the director of the Alaska Satellite Facility... I’ve put a lot of blood sweat and tears into it and I believe very much in the mission of the Alaska Satellite Facility research in general and UAF. So this is really gratifying to be rewarded for the work on something that I love.”

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