Building bridges - WiSTEE Connect

Mentoring connections can span generations for women in technical fields

Aug. 18, 2014
Susan Gawlowicz


Jie Qiao

By the time she reached midcareer, scientist Jie Qiao knew something was fundamentally wrong with the science-and-technology workforce. She was struck by the dwindling number of her female colleagues presenting at professional conferences or assuming leadership positions.

“There are a lot of reasons why women drop out of science,” said Qiao, an associate professor in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

Many women feel isolated, lonely and taxed by competing demands of work and home, she noted. Others feel in need of mentorship, out of the loop, excluded from informal decision-making opportunities and disliked for their successes.

Qiao knows the scenarios firsthand as a woman in the male-dominated field of optics and photonics. She established her career developing technology for photonics, optical instrumentation and laser systems in laboratories in the corporate and academic sectors.

Outside of the laboratory, Qiao has a growing reputation as the founder and chairperson of an organization that brings together women in science, technology, engineering and entrepreneurship called WiSTEE Connect. Qiao launched the networking organization in 2013 at the University of Rochester and brought it to RIT later that year. The group has quickly grown into a regional organization.

“Promoting women and science is not my job, not my research,” she said. “I am doing this because of my passion for science and technology. I want to use my talent in my field and I also want other women to be able to use their talents. But there is a challenge for women to stay in this field.”

The response to the professional networking events Qiao has organized in China, UR, RIT and at an Optical Society of America conference confirms her belief that junior faculty and mid-career women need more support.

“Mid-career women are the bridge generation for connecting with more senior and more junior people,” Qiao said. “You have continuity. You look up and you see someone in front of you; you look back and you see your past. And that is motivating because you see the overall picture; you’re not isolated.”

Entrepreneurship is another key aspect of WiSTEE Connect.

“I wanted to introduce entrepreneurial thinking to the academic world,” said Qiao, who earned her MBA from the UR’s Simon Business School. “I recognized how important global marketing, strategy and leadership are to scientists and engineers. It brings a different perspective to a woman’s career. Entrepreneurial thinking helps academic women achieve a balance of opportunities, team and resources.”

WiSTEE Connect is a multidisciplinary and cross-ranking platform for providing an environment to foster a “mentorship ecosystem” and collaboration in the spirit of “cooperative advancement,” she said. Qiao envisions it growing into a national organization for women to share experiences, knowledge and strategies for mentoring, collaborating and navigating their careers as well as for overcoming unspoken stereotypical expectations.

“There is a lot of effort to get girls in science and engineering,” Qiao said. “But there is no point if they cannot grow through the field and have a fruitful career through their life.”

For more information about WiSTEE Connect, go to


(Nathan Cahill) RIT students Amanda Ziemann, left, and Selene Chew attended a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, and connected with seasoned industry professionals.

Connections in action

Jie Qiao had RIT students like Amanda Ziemann and Selene Chew in mind when she founded Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Entrepreneurship Connect. The professional networking organization provides concrete support, mentorship and collaboration for students and young women on the cusp of their professional lives and through the rest of their careers. It bridges women at the junior and middle levels with those in leadership roles, said Qiao, an associate professor in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

Ziemann and Chew gained professional perspective, opportunity and visibility—goals central to WiSTEE Connect—while attending the Workshop on Hyperspectral Image and Signal Processing: Evolution in Remote Sensing in June with their mentors, RIT professors David Messinger and Nathan Cahill, respectively. Ziemann, a Ph.D. student in the Center for Imaging Science, presented a paper and co-chaired her first session, while Chew, a third-year computational mathematics major and honors student, gave a poster presentation at her first international conference.

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Source: RIT University News

Diving for pearls with the Hubble Space Telescope
Astronomy and Space Science

RIT astronomers help find star ‘necklace’ connecting elliptical galaxies


(NASA, ESA and RIT) The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured a cosmic moment of two merging cluster galaxies connected by a bright blue string of young stars.

Jul. 10, 2014
Susan Gawlowicz

Stars forming like a string of blue pearls along two elliptical galaxies could be the result of a galactic merger, according to an international team of astronomers. The structure could reveal rare insights about elliptical galaxies.

Scientists from Rochester Institute of Technology helped analyze data from the Hubble Space Telescope showing elliptical galaxies coalescing at the core of a dense galaxy cluster. The study is part of a program sponsored by the Hubble Space Telescope—an international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency—to look inside 23 massive clusters first catalogued in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Findings of the study, “A thirty-kiloparsec chain of ‘beads-on-a-string’ star formation between two merging early type galaxies in the core of a strong-lensing galaxy cluster,” are available online, at and in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“These data were originally taken for a completely different purpose—to study the bluish arcs on larger scales in the cluster,” said Chris O’Dea, professor in RIT’s School of Physics and Astronomy and a co-author on the paper. “We were not expecting to catch these two elliptical galaxies in this spectacular burst of star formation.”

O’Dea and co-author Stefi Baum, professor and director of RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, were thesis advisers and mentors of the paper’s lead author, Grant Tremblay, a post-doctoral fellow at the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, and an inaugural alumnus of RIT’s astrophysical sciences and technology Ph.D. program. Tremblay will join Yale University as a NASA Einstein Fellow in September.



(NASA, ESA and RIT) A zoom-in shows the two merging central cluster galaxies in yellow/orange and the “beads-on-a-string” star formation in bright blue.

The 100,000-light-year-long structure identified in the Hubble data is dotted with 19 young, blue star clusters like pearls on a string, evenly spaced and separated by 3,000 light-years. The star necklace will lose its shape in about 10 million years as each of the 19 stellar superclusters follows a different orbit, Tremblay said.

Earlier observations of star clusters forming in evenly distributed clumps in spiral galaxies could explain Tremblay’s “serendipitous discovery” in the Hubble data.

“This phenomenon has never been seen before in merging elliptical galaxies,” Tremblay said. “We have two big monsters and they’re playing tug-of-war with this necklace.”

Tremblay and his team suggest three possible scenarios that could have created the string-of-pearl stars between two elliptical galaxies:

  • Merger—Coalescing galaxies triggered a reservoir of cold gas into star formation
  • Cooling flow of gas—Hot gas from the X-ray atmosphere around the galaxies cooled into puddles of cold molecular gas and started to form stars
  • Collision—A galactic collision created an X-ray shock catalyzing the star formation by compressing the gas and cooling the plasma.

“Compared to a galaxy’s lifetime of billions of years, star formation processes—which take millions of years—are quite brief,” said Kevin Cooke, graduate student in RIT’s astrophysical sciences and technology program. “To find such an event in early type galaxies where star formation is rare is an incredibly fortunate find. Research into star formation in galaxies helps address many fundamental questions about the universe, and this rare star formation event will help propel this field of knowledge.”

Tremblay’s team has a strong connection to his alma mater, RIT, with three co-authors from the university—Baum, O’Dea and Cooke. In addition to the RIT contingent, the team of scientists includes Michael Gladders, University of Chicago; Matthew Bayliss, Harvard University and Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Håkon Dahle, University of Oslo; Timothy Davis, European Southern Observatory; Michael Florian, University of Chicago; Jane Rigby, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Keren Sharon, University of Michigan; Emmaris Soto, the Catholic University of America; and Eva Wuyts, Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik.

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Original Source: RIT University News

Taking Landsat 8 to the Beach (Summary)
Remote Sensing

Some things go perfectly with a summer trip to the coast: sunscreen, mystery novels, cold beverages, and sand castles. Other things—like algae blooms or polluted runoff—are a lot less appealing. The newest generation of Landsat satellite is helping researchers identify and study potential problem areas from space.

Aug. 22, 2014
Kate Ramsayer, with Michael Carlowicz
Taking Landsat 8 to the Beach
acquired September 19, 2013download large image (5 MB, JPEG, 3021x2014)
acquired September 19, 2013download GeoTIFF file (11 MB, TIFF)
Taking Landsat 8 to the Beach
acquired September 19, 2013
Color bar for Taking Landsat 8 to the Beach

Most remote sensing satellites, including the long-running Landsats, detect the intensity of different wavelengths of light that reflect off of Earth’s surfaces, from forests to fields to cities. But water poses a challenge. It absorbs and scatters a lot of light, so oceans and lakes tend to look dark or lack detail on satellite images, especially in the murky waters near the coast. “All of the interesting stuff was typically lost in the noise of the old instruments,” said John Schott, a researcher at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Landsat 8, however, has a new “coastal blue band” designed to parse out subtle differences in the color of water—minor changes in color intensity that can indicate what is mixed in that water. “Now we’ve got a possibility to see and figure out what’s causing color changes,” said Schott, a Landsat science team member. “It’s a potential revolution for studying water.”

The natural-color image at the top of this page was acquired on September 19, 2013, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8. It shows a southern shore of Lake Ontario near Rochester, New York, as it might appear to the human eye.

Beyond the blue of that water, Schott and his colleagues are paying close attention to three colors—green, yellow, and gray—to decipher what’s floating in Lake Ontario. Green wavelengths indicate the presence of chlorophyll, the molecule found not only in land plants but also algae and other phytoplankton. Yellow usually hints at the presence of decaying plant matter. Grays come from airborne particulates like dust and soil, or from dead algae that have lost their chlorophyll.

“It’s a classic color problem. All of these things together give the water a color,” Schott said. “You can unmix these to give you the components.” That’s exactly what his research team is now doing.

Over the past year, members of Schott’s research group have paddled or motored out into the lake to sample the waters on the same days that Landsat 8 has passed overhead (which happens once every 16 days). The team then compares the chemistry and visual quality of those water samples with what the satellite sees. The researchers are using these comparisons to create data tables and computer programs that will eventually turn remote satellite images into timely information for local managers of water quality.

The area inside the inset box of the top image is shown in scientific detail in the two lower images. The left map uses wavelength data from OLI to show the levels of chlorophyll in the lake and nearshore water bodies. Plants and phytoplankton use this pigment to convert photons of light into food. The lower right map uses Landsat data to show the amount of suspended sediment in the water. Silt, soil, sand, dissolved plant matter (from microscopic algae to leaves), and other floating debris naturally flow out from inland waterways to the coast, carrying both nutrients and pollutants.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of John Schott and Javier Concha, Rochester Institute of Technology. Caption by Kate Ramsayer, with Michael Carlowicz.

Landsat 8 - OLI
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Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Preethi Vaidyanathan

PhD Candidate
Other Degrees: Electrical Eng., KNMIET, India; MS, Electrical Eng., RIT
Hometown: Lucknow, India

While pursuing my Masters in Electrical Engineering at RIT I became interested in image processing, which tuned me into Imaging Science. In my first year as a PhD student I worked as a research assistant to Dr. Naval Rao on an interesting medical imaging project, after which I started my PhD work with Dr. Jeff Pelz on Eye tracking & Computational Linguistics to Understand Images. Working in the Multidisciplinary Vision Research Lab has helped me meet so many students and faculty from different departments across RIT, and broadened my perspective about how to do research. CIS has supported me to publish papers and attend conferences around the world such as the Europoean Conference on Eye Movements and the 2014 Symposium on Eye Tracking Research & Applications. Although networking is difficult for someone who is used to sitting in front of a computer, the welcoming environment at CIS encourages me to talk to faculty, staff, and students despite any background differences. I am glad I took advantage of pursuing this PhD when CIS & RIT gave me the opportunity to do so. As an Imaging Scientist I will never run out of research questions and innovative answers!

Dave Kelbe, PhD 2015

Other Degrees: BS, Imaging Science, RIT
Hometown: Victor, NY

I have always loved photography, but more than the art, I was drawn to an understanding of how the camera worked and how I could manipulate it to produce better images based on the science and physics of the underlying imaging processes. I was looking for something more fresh, more invigorating than physics or engineering... Imaging science was the perfect fit. It is specific enough that it is acutely relevant, yet encompassing enough that it is widely needed in almost any discipline.  While studying abroad freshman year, I discovered a connection to CIS all the way over in New Zealand and realized that the world was a lot smaller than I thought. I’ve since collected field measurements in the savanna of South Africa, squeezed into an unpressurized aircraft fuselage with the next-generation AVIRIS hyperspectral sensor in California,  climbed flux towers dizzyingly high above the forest canopy in Michigan, and worked alongside Greek Orthodox monks at a monastery in the Sinai desert to help recover erased texts from ancient manuscripts using spectral imaging. I’m incredibly thankful for the academic community in CIS that doesn’t stifle the energetic pursuits of the student, but supports and encourages them.

Wei Yao, PhD

UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAM AND SCHOOL: Electrical Engineering, Chongqing University, Chongqing, China

HOMETOWN: Wuwei, Gansu Province, China

When I worked as an electrical engineer in a medical imaging equipment manufacturing company, I wanted to learn the knowledge of biomedical imaging and digital image processing. Then I found Imaging Science. At CIS, I have learned a wide variety of courses, and met professors in many interesting majors. I changed my research topic from biomedical imaging to remote sensing imaging in my second year; now I am working on a NASA-supported project which studies the world’s ecosystems using two imaging spectrometers on a satellite. From photons to a photo, Imaging Science fuels the discovery of everything related to images.

Danny Dang, BS

I wanted to be a part of Imaging Science at RIT because of its distinctive curriculum. Imaging Science, to me, is a unique mixture of computer programing, math, physics, and head bashing. The Center for Imaging Science is special because of how it fosters close relationships not only between students within the major, but also with faculty and staff.  Thanks to these connections, I have been able to perform research on wavefront sensing with Prof. Jie Qiao in the AOFIM (Advanced Optical Fabrication and Instrumentation in Metrology) Lab.  Imaging Science is a major full of opportunities; you need only to take advantage of them. 

Imaging science is a unique holistic program that applies aspects of physics, engineering, computer science, and psychology to understanding and using images for all types of scientific inquiry.
Michael Augspurger
Imaging Science BS '17
There is so much covered by the term 'imaging science' that I’ve been exposed to far more topics and research areas than I would have in a traditional program.
Oesa Weaver
Imaging Science PhD '15
My internship at the National Ecological Observatory Network was a real-world job experience where co-workers came to me for information on Image Processing, and I realized that I was the expert in the office.
Kevin Sacca
Imaging Science BS '16