Pamela Gay

Senior Scientist at Planetary Science Institute


When the Universe Calls: working at the junction of Big Data, Machine Learning, and Science
Thursday 09:40 - 10:35
machine learning
web development
big data
cloud services
citizen science
Failure is not an option

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Once upon a time, 512 bytes was enough memory; it was enough for the many Mariner spacecraft that visited Mercury, Mars, and the Moon. That 512 bytes taught us about the temperature of Venus and the desolation of Mars, and we rejoiced to learn how different these worlds are from anything we'd imagined. Today, there is no "enough" in astronomical data. Our modern spacecraft and ground-based telescopes demand innovation in data processing just to handle the petabytes of data we receive each day. In order to transform this flood of information into understanding, we must find creative software solutions that leverage cloud computing, borrowed human brain power, and machine learning.

Our goal is simple to say; we want to find the safe places to land a spacecraft and the scientifically interesting places to explore as we continue our journey to understand the universe. This is dirty work, quite literally, as variations in soils and sun angles make mapping other worlds easier to accurately accomplish with people than with deep learning. As case studies, we will look at the complexity of mapping the Earth's moon, and solutions being used to find the rock the OSIRIS-REx mission will bring back to the planet Earth. Failure is not an option when writing code to explore unknown asteroids, and this talk will discuss the terror and joy and resulting brainstorming of seeing the first spacecraft images come down and realising the world your software is designed for is not the world the solar system supplied.

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Dr Pamela L. Gay is an astronomer, technologist, and creative focused on using new media to communicate astronomy and space science. She is co-host of the award-winning Astronomy Cast podcast. Through this show, she and co-host Fraser Cain take their audience on a fact-based journey through the universe, exploring not just what we know but how we know it. 

In addition to teaching astronomy through podcasts, Dr Gay is Director of CosmoQuest, an online facility for learning and doing astronomy. In spring of 2019, CosmoQuest community members will play a significant role in the OSIRIS-REx mission by helping map this asteroids surface. As part of CosmoQuest, she also hosts the Daily Space, a news show on Twitch and YouTube. 

While she is most well known for her public-facing science communications efforts, behind the scenes, Dr. Gay is a programer innovating how citizen science can advance science. From experimenting with UX to experimenting with machine learning, her team combines big data number crunching and web development to get at new understandings of the Universe.

Dr. Gay is a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, a 2018 Podcasting Hall of Fame inductee, and recipient of the 2019 Isaac Asimov Science Award. She can be seen on television on shows like Strange Evidence and The Universe, her writing has appeared in Sky & Telescope, Lightspeed, and other magazines, and she regularly consults on science fiction novels.

In addition to her academic work, Dr Gay is also a space artist who turns the latest news in planetary science and turns it into artwork and poetry. She has sold more than 100 original paintings to personal collectors, coffee shops, and everything in-between.