ice caps to deserts, Mikesell's research environs have been extreme
Mikesell, shown here in Antarctica, where he studied the environmental
impact of humans living there, came to the warmer climate
of Charlottesville to study scientific data management at
examining computer data that measures plant growth, doctoral student
David Mikesell came across a surprise -- the data predicted that
a Utah desert had far more ground cover than it should have. The
figure "stood out like a sore thumb," he said. After
making a few adjustments to the program, the model is now producing
accurate information, he said.
an interdisciplinary program in scientific data management, based
in the computer science
and environmental sciences
departments, Mikesell analyzes data from computer models. Designed
by environmental sciences professor William Emanuel, the models
chart plant growth and weather, and simulate climate on a global
scale. Mikesell inspects them for possible skewed information.
the data "is the easy part," he said. "The tougher
job is finding out what the data in a particular model means,
and why what you got out of it is what you got."
Mikesell had no formal computer science background when he applied
to graduate school, U.Va. professor John Pfaltz of the Engineering
School's computer science department "liked the research
I'd been involved in" as an undergraduate and as a scientist.
who earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University
of California-Irvine, spent 18 months over a four-year period
in Antarctica studying the impact of the 1,200 humans now living
there. He also conducted biological studies on penguins and other
sea life found there.
he continues his research at U.Va., Mikesell plans to identify
and fix any problems he may find inside other computer models,
applying the custom-built tool he designed -- a working system
of some 10,000 lines of computer programming code. He said his
work here has taught him and others "how to better manage
scientific data, and how to efficiently store and retrieve data."
finished with his course work and hoping to complete his Ph.D.
within 2 1/2 years, Mikesell has found the climate as a U.Va.
graduate student warm. "This is a great place to study,"
he said. "The professors are open and enthusiastic to suggestions."
may teach after graduate school. He also wants to work with an
organization his wife, Brenda, is involved in -- the Foundation
for Indigenous Languages. The group assists people of the world
who don't use writing as a means to communicate. Mikesell said
he could teach them how to purify drinking water or administer
basic first aid.