Hannah Kerner

Job title and company

Graduate Student Researcher, Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration


Computer Science, B.S., Exploration Systems Design, Ph.D. (in progress)

What do you do?

I am researching machine learning applications for planetary science. Specifically, I am creating models that can be trained to recognize “novelty” or geologically interesting features in planetary data (images, spectra, etc.). The idea is to create artificially intelligent programs that can act like members of a science mission team to prioritize observations for review by human scientists to assist with tactical and strategic planning (e.g. deciding where to drive the rover and what surface features to investigate further), thus increasing the scientific return of exploration missions.

What is your favorite part about your job?

When your job is to do research, you have the freedom to explore any thought that pops into your brain (assuming it’s relevant to your field) because that’s how people make discoveries. It is really liberating to have permission to explore your own brain and read and play with all the things you think are interesting. It’s also pretty cool that you’re working with robots that are on other planets!

What inspired you to enter into your field?

I really liked space but all of the fields I knew of e.g. astronomy, geology, etc involved waiting for some data and spending tons of time analyzing it. I was way too impatient for that and when I found computer science it was the closest thing to magic. As a computer scientist you can think of something you want to do and just do it, you can make it on your computer. I can write code and upload it to a spacecraft in my jammies at home if I want to. It also gives you the ability to not only work on building the spacecraft that collect the data but you also have the skills to analyze the data. Being a computer scientist is much like being a real magician — it’s very empowering and fun.