Vivian White

Director of Free Choice Learning - Astronomical Society of the Pacific


San Francisco State University

Physics with a concentration in Astronomy

Sacramento City College


Vivian White 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?

Vivian White

As a kid, I didn't think I would be a scientist but I have always loved to read and I ask A LOT of questions. After high school, while waiting tables, I'd read whatever I came across, including a popular physics book. It intrigued me but I couldn't understand the basic math. So I signed up for an algebra class at a community college. And then another and eventually I found the Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement program (MESA). There, my mentor Mai-Gemu Johnson encouraged me until I found myself with a degree in math and a passion for physics. After that, I just never stopped.

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

I am the Principal Investigator (PI) for the Eclipse Ambassadors Off the Path program, partnering undergraduates and amateur astronomers to prepare their communities for the upcoming eclipses. I also help administer the Night Sky Network of more than 400 astronomy clubs across the US. These volunteer clubs bring their telescopes and enthusiasm to sidewalks, parks, and schools near you to share the awe of the sky with everyone.

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

I feel like I have the best job in the world - I get to work with dedicated volunteers to share the wonder of astronomy with everyone. I am fortunate to get to learn every day about topics from solar physics to traditional sky legends. My team creates activities and training programs to give educators the tools they need to get more "wow" into the world. Much of my time is spent coordinating programs and keeping track of our progress. But my favorite times are when I get to bring a telescope out and talk with people who may have never looked at Saturn or the Moon magnified like that. It reminds us of our connectedness and place in the bigger picture.

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

Science is about noticing the things around you with intense curiosity, about keeping an open mind and allowing yourself to be surprised. Be prepared to fail - a lot. In fact, if you never get things wrong, you might not be trying hard enough. Just keep going!

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

I love the phases of the Moon Visualization - it has so much information and I can watch it for ages.

This 4K visualization shows the Moon's phase and libration at hourly intervals throughout 2022, as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Who inspires you?

My kid inspires me everyday with the open-minded way they approach the world. Ace is fearless in the pursuit of justice and truth and so joyful at the same time.

What are some fun facts about yourself?

I am a hobby potter and a swimmer and I love to ride my bike. I've had the privilege of working for more than a decade with Buddhist monks and nuns in India, teaching astronomy and learning from them.