STEM Professional of the week

Sonia Gallegos, Ph.D.      
U.S. Navy

Dr. Sonia Gallegos was born in Quito, Ecuador and raised in New York City. She attended the City University of New York and majored in Biology, thinking she would pursue her medical degree. However, a Marine Geology Class at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research would cause her to fall in love with the Ocean and guide her towards an incredible career that would one day take her around the world.

Her love of the sea first took her to the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM) where she pursued her master's degree in Marine Science. Upon graduation, Sonia was hired as a Marine Extension Agent by the UPRM- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) Sea Grant Program. During her time at Sea Grant, she conducted education programs to enhance coastal environmental and economic sustainability in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. She led workshops and developed materials to promote coastal ecosystem stewardship and while doing so would gain extensive experience in oceanographic field work in the Caribbean. After exposure to new technologies she decided to pursued a doctorate in oceanography at Texas A& M, College Station.

Dr. Gallegos' 28 years of oceanographic experience have taken her on over 53 deployments onboard vessels operated by the U.S. Navy, NATO, Korean and Chinese governments, to name just a few. She has made tremendous contributions in the fields of remote sensing and earth science. Her remote sensing experience includes in-depth knowledge of satellite payloads, sensors characteristics, calibration, data capture, and algorithm development, again, to just scratch the surface.

Highlighting some of the achievement from her extensive and intensive career: Dr. Gallegos developed satellite-based sediment algorithms to quantify the Yangtze River’s plume sediment load, and did so in collaboration with South Korean and Chinese scientists. She successfully transitioned from development into production, an automated oil slick detection system based on Synthetic Aperture Radar. This work was performed in collaboration with the NOAA, NASA Langley Space Center, and Florida State University, and was used to great effect during the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She also developed the first operational optical-environmental model of the Yellow Sea.

Today, Dr. Gallegos divides her time between NASA’s Applied Science Technology Project Office and the Naval Research Laboratory, both located at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Her research focuses on the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with the ocean and atmosphere required for retrieval of inherent and apparent optical properties of the water, sea surface temperature, and heat flux, and oil signals. She applies this research to support the mission of several federal agencies, including NASA, the U.S. Navy, and the NOAA.

Sonia Gallegos is a strong role model and mentor for students in the U.S. and abroad. Her passion for her work and the ability to communicate advanced concepts to students, make her a very popular speaker at universities. She participates in collaborative research with undergraduate student programs at the University of S. Florida and challenges young women to consider careers that combine the popular fields of biology and chemistry with technology and to pursue professions in optical sensing of the oceans. Dr. Gallegos holds a bachelors in biology from Hunter College of the City University of New York, a masters in Marine Science from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from Texas A&M University at College Station. Dr. Gallegos resides in Slidell, Louisiana with her husband and was the recipient of a Great Minds in STEM Military & Civilian Hero Award in October of 2014.

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