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Solving Puzzles of the Universe with Farisa Morales

Solving Puzzles of the Universe with Farisa Morales Farisa Morales works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an astronomer with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope mission. She started her career at JPL as an engineering intern. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


This feature was written by high school student Vanessa Magdaleno as part of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's ongoing celebration of Women's History Month 2012. Learn more at www.jpl.nasa.gov/whm

Today, successful women in science all contribute to a "little piece of the puzzle." Farisa Morales makes her contribution as an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory studying other planetary systems, observing the sky through the Spitzer Space Telescope and analyzing the dust around distant stars outside our solar system in search of new planets. But she didn't discover this passion until she was in college.
 
At the start of her college experience, Morales was majoring in mathematics and decided on taking an internship at JPL for engineering. She was later introduced to Spitzer Project Scientist Michael Werner, who asked her to take on huge task far from her comport zone: help take in data from the giant space telescope. This would range from searching for baby star formations to discovering distant galaxies at the edges of the universe. Farisa found her calling and she wanted to be exposed to even more. She switched her major to astrophysics and now has her PhD. "Life just takes you places and you are the main force pushing through," said Morales.
 
As part of the University of Southern California's Organization of Women in Physics, Morales takes an active role in encouraging women to be a part of the science field. Over the years she's juggled raising two kids, working and studies, but she says, "If I can do it, why can't others?" hoping to see a rise in the number of women in science.
 
These days, she spends her time writing proposals, programming downloaded images from Spitzer, learning about a specific telescope or publishing a recent finding. Even teaching astronomy at Cerritos College, Los Angeles Mission College, Pierce College and California State University, Northridge adds to her busy schedule.  In five to ten years she sees herself at a full-time job teaching at a university while still maintaining her research activities at JPL. She's earned a few awards including an American Astronomical Society Chambliss award. To Morales, the work itself is satisfying. "My life has not been in vain because I'm providing the answers to one little tiny piece of the cosmic puzzle," she said. "I came into this world, and I worked and solved a little tiny piece of the puzzle. And when I leave, that is my legacy. The realization of knowing you're a productive human being and you're leaving something positive for humanity to continue to build upon is just tremendous!"