Stars of Into the Unknown – Amy Lo

Amy Lo

Name:

Amy Lo

Profession:

System Engineer

Job Title:

JWST Alignments Engineer

What that means:

Making sure all the important pieces of the James Webb Space Telescope fit together and are positioned in the right place so it can see the very first stars and galaxies in the universe!

I grew up in:

A lot of different places, including Taiwan, New York, Vancouver Canada, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles!

Who/what inspired me to do what I am doing now:

Not a single person inspired me, but I watched and read a lot of science fiction. I was always drawn to the sciences, it's interesting and amazing, and I always wanted to be part of something big and important!

I went to College/University at:

My undergrad degree is from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. My Ph.D is from UCLA! Go Bruins!

I hold a degree(s) in the following areas:

BS in Physics, and Ph.D in Astrophysics.

What I'm most looking forward to seeing or learning about from JWST:

Seeing the first stars and galaxies that ever existed in the universe!

Advice someone once gave me that really impacted me:

I'm not sure if anyone ever gave me this advice, but I always try to be true to myself. Honestly, the first reason is being someone else takes just too much effort. But everyone spends a lot of time figuring out what they're good at, what they like to do, and trying to do the right thing. Why would you then throw all that away and try to be someone else?

Share an experience or obstacle you've experienced in school or early career and how you overcame it:

This isn't a typical obstacle, but something that I am still working on. I can be impulsive, wanting to do something right away, jump into things. I have to (and still am) learning to think actions through, take the time to double check, and make sure everything is “right”. It's a continuous struggle!

What I do in my spare time:

I read a lot, play video games, work on my house with small DIY projects. I have 2 cats and they are the best! Oh, and my husband has an amateur race car team and I help with the team, go to races, and work on the race car.

What do you feel is the world's greatest scientific accomplishment?

This is difficult, there are so many! Instead I will tell you about my favorite scientific theorem, it was developed by Emmy Noether, and to put it simply: every symmetry has a conserved quantity. At first it may not make a lot of sense, but as you learn more about physics, it becomes more interesting. For example, we know that no matter where you are located, the laws of physics remains the same (F=ma is the same here on earth, but also out in space). This is a symmetry in spatial coordinates, and Noether's theorem lets us then calculate the conservation of energy! The in between steps are quite complicated, but the idea of the theorem is simple and powerful, linking symmetry of space with conservation of energy.

Is what you're doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?

I wanted to be all kinds of things when I was a kid (poet, writer, brain surgeon, artist, and architect) so not exactly, but I never felt like I had to be one thing or another. I was open to lots of different possibilities!

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in a STEM career?

A lot of people stay away from STEM because they “don't like math”. I'm guessing that it is less about preferences, and more that they don't understand some math. Sometimes the way we teach math makes it difficult to figure out how you can use it. But most of the fundamentals of math is not that hard! And it is so useful! Take the time to learn it properly, and get your teachers to give you real life examples.

What skills are important for you in your work?

Well, actually, math! Math is the foundation of science and engineering. You don't need very complex math, but having a very solid foundation will really help you in your career and life. You can do a lot of analysis if you understand basic geometry, statistics, and basic differential equations.

With 1 being never/not important and 5 always/very important:

How important, or frequently used, is Science in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

How important, or frequently used, is Technology in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

How important, or frequently used, is Engineering in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

How important, or frequently used, is Math in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

Other skills, in addition to STEM, that are necessary to be successful in my job:

Communication and a willingness to learn.

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