Rob Fatland is a Program Manager for Microsoft Corporation and simultaneously a Research Scientist for Vexcel Corporation (a subsidiary of Microsoft.) He works on the acquisition, visualization, and applications of geospatial information particularly in science and education. In his spare moments Dr. Fatland does some freelance science teaching, particularly related to astronomy and now tending towards geoscience. He is working on a science education program dedicated to the proposition that math and physics can be learned and understood through direct experience rather than by having to take somebody's word for it. Here is a corresponding website.
...easier to write in first person so...
I finished an undergraduate degree in physics at Caltech in 1988 and started work at NASA-JPL in radar science, particularly synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems. I wrote data acquisition simulators, some DSP code, some processor code for the shuttle SIR-C missions, and I also became increasingly involved in field calibration (a type of what remote sensing people call ground truth). This involved setting up large bright targets of known cross-section built from triangular panels highly visible to an orbiting radar 800 kilometers away. The bright spots in resulting images permit calibration of the entire system... assuming you don't ding the reflectors in the process of getting them into place.
In the course of six years at JPL I realized there is a huge gap between NASA technology and its low rate of adoption by geoscientists, the very people the NASA missions are intended to benefit. With this idea in the back of my head I went to graduate school in Fairbanks Alaska at the Geophysical Institute. I did a PhD in remote sensing geophysics and in the course wrote a SAR interferometry processing system for analyzing glacier motion. This processor was adopted by the Alaska Satellite Facility as a prototype open distribution so perhaps that code lives on somewhere.
I moved to Boulder in 1998 to work at Vexcel Corporation, at the time a small business concerned with "image information engineering", more applications of remote sensing. I was starting to become aware of another gap, in this case as a result of working at science fairs. This gap is between science and education, particularly in primary and secondary schools. Science teachers in public schools face a lot of obstacles in the course of their jobs, as do their students, so a lot of potential is lost. On the other side scientists do not necessarily spend a lot of time talking with these teachers and their students.
In 2000 I got involved with astronomy education at the early secondary school grade levels and learned a lot more by spending time with hoards of 5--7th graders on cloudy nights when there was no sky to be seen. We had to do something, so we started playing around with astronomy in (pdf file) ways that involved jumping around the room quite a bit and laughing a lot. This has been a good start to what I hope to build on in the second half of my professional career.
Back to Vexcel: In 2002 I received NASA sponsorship to start developing field computers as in situ sensors. These devices would operate in harsh environments and could complement remote sensing data by providing ground truth. This project continued for about a year and a half and resulted in what we call Vexcel Microservers, devices I'm still developing and using today.
In May 2006 Microsoft bought Vexcel in the course of developing the Microsoft Virtual Earth platform. Almost simultaneously in June 2006 myself and my colleagues at the University of Alaska Southeast were awarded a collaborational grant by NASA to build a smart sensor web, the subject of this wiki.
In this new Microsoft context I’ve had the luxury of moving beyond sensor networks, power management circuits, single board computers and balky WiFi bridges to ponder what-all one could do with sensor webs in geoscience and education, going from problems to data to working on solutions, both data anaylysis and visualization. In the course of this new development I tend to think in about three parallel streams: What can be done in geoscience research, what can be done in science education, and how can Microsoft platforms in particular be applied to these processes. The Microsoft angle is a result, of course, of becoming a member of that company, but with an aspect that I never anticipated: Microsoft is not Windows. In fact, Microsoft has a broad collection of technologies that by and large work together, the sum being greater than the parts. Learning about this has been a pleasant surprise.
Now: Back to moving the story forward.