New Mexico Tech Scientists Discuss "Why I Want To Be a Scientist"

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., March 11, 2009 – Two New Mexico Tech instructors explain “Why I Want To Be A Scientist” in new videos on KNME’s website.

Physics professor Dr. Dave Westpfahl and computer science research scientist Dr. Srinivas Mukkamala are the newly featured film stars.

Westpfahl took the production crew to the Very Large Array to film his segment. With the 15-story tall radio-telescope dishes in the background, he talked about how he became interested in science as a child.

While standing inside a dish, Westpfahl talked about how scientists contribute to the understanding of the universe.

“These radio telescopes are so sensitive they can record energy left over from the Big Bang,” Westpfahl said. “Hydrogen is the most abundant atom in the universe. As an astrophysicist, I can use the radio telescopes to see the abundance and motion of hydrogen. I can do things like see a galaxy rotate.”

These video spots are designed to encourage youngsters to pursue math and science education and careers.

“There’s still a lot about the universe we don’t understand,” he said. “Doing well in math and science will help you become an astrophysicist and come to a place like this and make a great discovery.”

Dr. Mukkamala is a senior scientist at the Institute for Complex Additive Systems Analysis, the computer science unit based at New Mexico Tech.

“Today, computers are not always used for good things,” he said. “Some individuals use computers against innocent citizens. My job is to track suspicious activities through a process called data mining.”

Most computer users, including cyber-criminals, have a pattern of behavior. Mukkamala and his fellow scientists use data mining to combat computer-based crimes.

“Data mining is a great field,” he said. “If you can think big, think fast and think differently, you can make a difference for our society and yourself.”

The video features are part of New Mexico Tech’s ongoing partnership with the PBS station in Albuquerque. The university and the station also collaborate to host Science Café events, which feature Nova shows and Tech professors speaking about their specialty.

Other videos feature Dr. Bill McIntosh, Dr. Nelia Dunbar, Dr. Rick Aster, Dr. Enrique Vivoni and Dr. Penny Boston, all of the Earth and Environmental Science Department, Dr. Michaelann Tartis of the Chemical Engineering Department, Dr. Eileen Ryan, project scientist at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory and Dr. Van Romero, vice president of research and physics professor.

To see all the videos, visit knme.org/sciencecentral.

– NMT –