Laura Brandt Edson

Project Manager - New Mexico Consortium


The College of William and Mary

History, Linguistics

The George Washington University

Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education

Laura Brandt Edson is part of NASA's Science Activation Program (SciAct). SciAct has projects and NASA teams across the U.S. that are helping learners of all ages do science!

What first sparked your interest in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?

My love for nature was sparked as a toddler in the mountains of North Carolina, seeing the mist roll down the tree-covered slopes and encountering box turtles, wolf spiders, and rat snakes. My dad also had a tiny observatory further up the mountain and would take me there to look at Jupiter and Saturn through the telescope. I loved it!

What Science Activation project(s) are you affiliated with?

Citizen scientists track auroras around the world via reports on the Aurorasaurus website and on Twitter. Using aurora-related tweets and reports, it generates a real-time, global map of the Lights. Citizen scientists then log in and verify the tweets. Each verified tweet or report serves as a valuable data point for scientists to analyze and incorporate into space weather models.

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

My role is to help manage the day-to-day operations of the Aurorasaurus citizen science project. I field questions, write outreach and education products, and help keep up with the community.

What's one piece of advice you would give to someone interested in learning more about science?

There are many ways to engage with science. I always struggled with math, and for most of my life thought I couldn’t take part in science unless I became a scientist. But studying history with a focus on material culture–the study of the ways people create, use, and give meaning to objects–provided another avenue.

For example, my undergrad honors thesis focused on some of the social impacts of vision aids. Even though I couldn’t calculate the focal points of the lenses, I studied how STEM influences the world. Later, citizen and community science gave me new ways to take part in scientific research, and I was able to more positively reengage with math while getting an amateur radio license. At Aurorasaurus, I am able to help empower other people to #DoNASAScience.

Green bands of light against a night sky.
My first aurora photo, Borgarbyggð, Iceland, 2018.
Laura Brandt Edson

My advice is: find the way that works best for you and that nurtures you as much as you contribute to it!

What is your favorite science image or visualization, and why?

My favorite science image is a 2015 photo taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849. Gravitational lensing stretches the light from the galaxies into a smiley face shape, bridging science and society. People connect best with things that are meaningful or familiar to them, and part of an informal educator’s job is to help them find those connections. While the concept of gravitational lensing can be intimidating and difficult to abstract, approaching it through an image of the universe smiling back at us provides safe, solid ground to help learners cultivate understanding.

Three galaxies look like a smiling fact with two yellow dots for eyes and a stretched (gravitationally lensed) galaxy makes up the smile.
A formation of galaxies akin to a smiling face thanks to gravitational lensing.
ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgment: Judy Schmidt (geckzilla)

Who inspires you?

Honestly, my colleagues in the aurora chaser community! They generously contribute a wealth of knowledge and experience, and I learn from them every time we talk. Besides, their passion for chasing and photographing the aurora is contagious!

What are some fun facts about yourself?

I collect musical instruments the way some people collect books. I play them all a little bit. My favorite is Appalachian hammered dulcimer, an ancient instrument that is a descendant of the Middle Eastern santur and ancestor of the piano.