Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ethiopian doctoral student, Woubet Alemu, wins $30,000 grant from NASA

Patrick Bowden Reporter
This year, two determined SDSU Ph.D. students Christopher Moran and Woubet Alemu applied for and won the international NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship award.
This award grants the students each a $30,000 sum to help further their aspiring research plans for the future.
The grant also allows the students to utilize NASA’s research recourses that are typically unavailable to the public such as satellites, telescopes and planes.
Moran is out west studying fuel treatments that deal with forest fires. Alemu, is well on his way to organizing multiple data collection systems for agriculture production in East Africa. Winning these fellowships has opened many new doors for the students in terms of completing their Ph.D.’s, and help them to be a part of solving larger, worldwide problems.

“Woubet and I met in 2009 when we first went to Ethiopia (Woubet’s home country) for a project under the National Institutes of Health,” said Alemu’s Ph.D. advisor Dr. Geoffrey Henebry. “Since 2011, I have advised him by checking research progress alongside him as his graduate research assistant.”
Alemu’s research deals indirectly with the future prediction of grain production in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Tanzania. The extremities of these countries climate variables, along with their “very incomplete infrastructure,” make crop production nearly unpredictable and difficult to maintain.
Alemu uses passive microwave data from special sensors (2003-2011) onboard NASA’s Aqua satellite to measure air temperature, surface moisture, and vegetation optical depth through clouds at night.
While these specific data points are not commonly used, they are important variables for exactly what Alemu plans to do with his research.
“For the first year [of research] we do crop vegetation modeming for land surface phenology. For the second year, we will use this data to predict crop productivity in these countries,” Alemu said. “We will use this type of data for the research as a whole in the future.”
If Alemu’s research goes the way he plans it to, this process will gradually narrow down exactly how to effectively increase the grain production in East Africa.