Growing up, Tamar Moss relished time spent hiking with her family and attending summer camp. These experiences instilled in her a deep appreciation for the natural world.
So when she first learned about the issue of climate change, she decided she wanted to do her part to help mitigate its effects. Moss went on to start a youth group that weatherized homes in her community to help residents reduce their energy consumption. She also helped write a successful grant to renovate bathrooms in her high school to create model eco-friendly facilities for her county’s school district.
Moss developed a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during middle school and high school, when she took part in the Science Olympiad competition. During her senior year of high school, Moss was assigned to the Olympiad’s remote sensing event. It was her first encounter with remote sensing, a field of study where scientists use satellite technology to gain a better understanding about the earth. Her interest was piqued.
“I think that what intrigues me most about remote sensing is its application to address big-world problems, like climate change,” Moss said. “I find it exciting that we can remotely access diverse, high-resolution information about local and global patterns, so that we can respond accordingly.”
Now an undergraduate student at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Moss recently had the opportunity to conduct research in remote sensing at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) through the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) Program.
Under the mentorship of Bandana Kar, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Remote Sensing Group of ORNL’s National Security Emerging Technologies Division, Moss sought to better understand the urban heat island (UHI) effect from a public health and socioeconomic perspective. The UHI effect refers to a phenomenon where urban areas are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas due in part to a lack of vegetation and excess heat released from human activities.
At the outset of her internship, Moss, with guidance from Kar, explored the relationships between UHI, energy consumption and socioeconomic variables in Knox County, Tennessee. Moss used remote sensing technology to extract high-resolution temperature data and calculate land surface temperature (LST), a metric for urban heat islands. She found that high percentages of vulnerable populations, such as low-income residents and elderly people, are present in areas with significantly high LST and low energy consumption. Moss concluded that, with rising temperatures, these socio-economically vulnerable groups may be at a higher risk for heat-stress illness because of high LST and low energy consumption.
More recently, Moss and Kar expanded the scope of their research and examined the effects of urban heat islands in other cities around the southeastern United States.
“My research impacts the majority of Americans, because the urban heat island phenomenon affects all cities, big and small alike,” Moss said. “Our research identifies the most vulnerable populations to UHI effects, so that city planners who want to improve public health and decrease energy consumption can allocate funds to most impactfully reduce urban temperatures.”
When Moss wasn’t conducting research, she was participating in a variety of professional development activities, including tours of ORNL facilities and seminars around campus. Through these activities, Moss learned a great deal about topics outside her research focus, gained confidence as a public speaker and honed her science writing skills.
Moss earned her share of accolades during her internship. In the spring, she won Best Initial Abstract for her research project description. That same semester, SULI interns each delivered a five-minute summary of their research in an Ignite talk format. Moss shared Best Ignite Talk honors with SULI intern Brielle Kwarta.
“I have a great impression of the SULI program,” Moss said. “Not only did I grow as a scientist and student through my research, but with the professional development training, the program also helped me prepare for future professional opportunities.”
Moss, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, hopes one day to write and support science-backed policy on behalf of a governmental or nonprofit organization.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity SULI has provided me to grow professionally and personally,” she said. “I appreciate my mentor’s unfailing support, patience and enthusiasm.”
The SULI program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) and is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), managed by ORAU.