Pamela L. Gay
|Born||December 12, 1973|
California, United States
|Alma mater||University of Texas, Austin|
|Employer||Planetary Science Institute, Edwardsville, Illinois|
|Known for||Astronomy, education, podcasting|
Pamela L. Gay (born December 12, 1973) is an American astronomer, educator, podcaster, and writer, best known for her work in astronomical podcasting and citizen science astronomy projects. She is a Senior Education and Communication Specialist and Senior Scientist for the Planetary Science Institute. Her research interests include analysis of astronomy data, as well as examination of the impact of citizen science initiatives. Gay has also appeared as herself in various television documentary series.
Gay takes part in science popularization efforts and educational outreach as director of CosmoQuest, a citizen science project aimed at engaging the public in astronomy research, speaking on science and scientific skepticism topics internationally, and through educational podcasting.
Gay was born in California and later moved to Westford, Massachusetts where she attended Westford Academy. Gay received a BS degree in Astrophysics from Michigan State University in 1996 and a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Texas, Austin, in 2002. She is a Senior Education and Communication Specialist and Senior Scientist for the Planetary Science Institute. Previously, Gay was the Director of Technology and Citizen Science for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and prior to that, an assistant research professor in the STEM center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Gay was on the Council (board of directors) for the American Association of Variable Star Observers, as well as its Educational Committee Chair.
Gay's research interests focus primarily on motivating science engagement with media and citizen scientists, as well as data analysis and visualization to engage the public as partners in the analysis of large data sets. Other research interests include RR Lyrae stars with which she collaborates with both professional and amateur astronomers across the world to gather needed data.
While Gay is known for her citizen science and educational outreach work, much of her research has been in galactic astronomy. Gay's work with David Lambert provided confirmation that magnesium (Mg) isotopes are primarily a product of nucleosynthesis in massive stars, and demonstrated that some stars with known "anomalous or peculiar composition are also marked by distinctive isotopic Mg abundances." Gay and Lambert's results have been further cited in research of properties of the fine-structure constant using absorption systems in the spectra of distant quasars.
Gay's work on communication of astronomy has investigated educational trends involving the use of podcasting, using the Slacker Astronomy podcast as a case study. Researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia cited the study, examining podcasting as a means of supporting instruction, leveraging its advantages against student time constraints and potential bandwidth limitations.
Gay's work on Exploring the Motivations of Citizen Science Volunteers examined the Zooniverse project, which developed from the Galaxy Zoo initiative, which started in 2007. Researchers citing this study concluded that "[p]ublic response was extremely positive," garnering over 60 million classifications.
Gay is the Project Director for the citizen science project CosmoQuest. The project is partnered with NASA missions, including NASA's Dawn, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), MESSENGER, and Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) teams, to "build a series of projects that map the surfaces of rocky worlds and explore the atmospheres of planets and small bodies the solar system over."
The project provides an interface for users to assist in identification, mapping and characterization of surface features using visual data provided by NASA missions. Crater counting is described as "a valuable exercise, but it's hard to automate." Surface features, such as the size and degradation of craters, are identified by individual users and submitted back to the project, where they are collected alongside the contributions of other citizen scientists. CosmoQuest projects have included Planet Mappers, Moon Mappers, Asteroid Mappers, and a future project, Planet Investigators. A mobile application is available as part of the Moon Mappers project, Moon Mappers Crater Decay.
CosmoQuest has also provided workshops for educators as well as online astronomy course curricula.
Gay takes part in astronomy popularization activities and advocates collaboration "to create a community of science within the public." She is a regular astronomy participant in the Virtual Star Party, a weekly video cast featuring professional and amateur astronomers, which was featured in a documentary by Google released at the company's I/O keynote address in San Francisco in June 2012.
Gay also participates in scientific skepticism outreach. In 2011, she was a speaker at The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, Nevada and participated in a panel alongside Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others entitled "Our Future in Space," which discussed and debated the role of humans and technology in upcoming space exploration.
At TAM 2012, Gay was a main program speaker, in which she advocated for positive action at the level of the individual to effect solutions to discrimination issues and to seize opportunities to promote scientific collaboration. Gay has also written about her experience regarding gender bias in the field of science and academia.
Gay has been an astronomy speaker at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia in 2012 and 2013, where she presented on multiverses,: 103 as well as on the "Limits of Skepticism" as part of a panel discussion with Margaret Downey, Tim Farley, Debbie Goddard, D.J. Grothe, and Massimo Pigliucci.: 101
Gay co-hosts the Astronomy Cast podcast, an educational program which debuted in September 2006, with Fraser Cain. The show covers a variety of topics, including the solar system, cosmology, black holes, and misconceptions about astronomy, and attempts to share "not only what we know, but how we know what we know," according to Cain.
In 2008, Gay initiated brainstorming via e-mail on possible "new media" programs for 2009, the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). The discussion included Michael Koppelman from Slacker Astronomy, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, and others involved in the IYA, and resulted in the 365 Days Of Astronomy podcast. The podcast was to publish one episode per day over the entire year of 2009 and was originally planned to only run for that year. One of the cornerstones of the IYA was to make astronomy affordable and accessible to everyone in America. To do this 50-power telescopes called Galileoscopes were available for purchase online for only $10 each. "You can actually see the rings of Saturn," exclaims Gay. She was also involved in the New Media Task Group, "We need to communicate all these ideas and get people who don't want to go outside involved online," says Gay.
Gay lives in southern Illinois with her husband and is also an avid equestrian.
Born in California, Gay has stated that one early source of inspiration came while living in California was "getting to see contrails of the space shuttle as it came to land at Edwards Air Force Base," as well as watching television images from the Voyager missions passing Jupiter in 1979 at age five.
While she was in the second grade, Gay moved with her parents to Westford, Massachusetts, which she describes as a "fairly small town," advantageous for its rural location with dark skies. The town is also home to Haystack Observatory, where she worked during her senior year of high school.
Gay has appeared as herself in various episodes of television series documentaries.
|2015||The Universe||Episode #9.01 – "Omens of Doom"||TV series documentary|
|2013||Top Secrets||Episode #1.02 – "Doomsday"||TV series documentary|
|2012||The Universe||Episode #6.11 – "Deep Freeze"||TV series documentary|
|2009||The Universe||Episode #4.11 – "Science Fiction, Science Fact"||TV series documentary|
|2009||The Universe||Episode #4.08 – "Space Wars"||TV series documentary|