By working together in a group, we are better equipped to solve the World's biggest problems than by trying to solve them on our own.
Associate professor Dr. Laura Chasmer from the Department of Geography & Environment thought she would be an artist for most of her life. Despite this, she had an interest in science and took a remote sensing course in her second year of university that shifted her academic trajectory. Her current research focuses on physical geography, wetlands, peatlands, wildfires and remote sensing.
What excites you about your work?
I find scientific study and the answering of complex questions is incredibly creative. Like a painter who pulls out shapes and colours from a canvas, it is exciting to use my mind and combine my skills to answer complex questions that help us maintain our natural environment and help people and communities. I also love doing fieldwork and measuring things. Forests and peatlands are beautiful environments, filled with amazing colours, textures, and even lots of berries that you can eat! I am most excited when I visit a peatland for the first time.
What sparked your interest in your field?
I had planned to be an artist for most of my life, but I also liked science and was especially interested in astronomy. During my second year of university, I took a remote sensing course (remote sensing measures radiation reflections from the Earth's surface most simply using photographs). I became really interested in how the biochemistry of different features on Earth reflects and absorbs light differently. We can examine the distribution of ecosystems and land cover types and how they change over time from this information. I found this truly interesting and went on to use remote sensing in my MSc (at UWaterloo) and PhD (at Queen's U).
Tell us about the first time you felt really excited about what you were learning?
I feel excited about what I do every day, so this is difficult to think about. Probably the first spark of excitement was when I discovered how different wavelengths of electromagnetic energy from the Sun reflect different objects. If you put all of the wavelengths together, this gives you 'white light.' I figured that out in a science fair project in Grade 5. What was exciting was when I was in my 3rd year at U of Waterloo, my professor, Dr. Howarth, asked us what colour all of the wavelengths put together make, and I was the only one who could answer that question (white, from my science fair project). That was one of the most exciting moments for me.
What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
I would really like to develop remote sensing and geospatial methods to improve our understanding of how wildland fires burn through ecosystems to reduce fire fuels before they impact communities. At the moment, there is an amazing amount of geospatial information (satellite data, ground elevation, weather data) that are not used to their fullest in national fire prediction models. I would like to help move this area of research forward.
What words of inspiration would you like to share with the next generation of women and girls?
A few words: Anything that you want to do well takes effort, but when you really love what you do, it becomes more like a full-time 'hobby' than a job (the effort is worth it for the excitement of it). I love what I do every day of the week. Don't be afraid to ask for help from others. They can give you the support you need to push through difficulties. And don't plan your life goals and timelines so much that you don't have flexibility. The people that you meet will shift and change your path in life. Finally, work with people from different disciplines. By working together in a group, we are better equipped to solve some of the World's biggest problems than by trying to solve them on our own.
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