NCDC Insider: Meet CICS-NC Mathematician, Jessica Matthews

Image of Jessica Matthews, CICS-NC Mathematician

Jessica Matthews, CICS-NC Mathematician

Co-located with NCDC is NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites–North Carolina (CICS-NC). CICS-NC provides for collaborative research and associated activities in support of NOAA mission goals related to meteorological satellite and climate data and information research and development. Jessica Matthews is one of the CICS-NC staff working closely with NCDC on a variety of projects. A mathematician, Jessica works mainly on an international project that involves producing a land surface albedo climate data record based on global geostationary satellite data.

The Earth’s land surface albedo refers to its ability to reflect sunlight off various surfaces. Geostationary satellites have sensors on board to monitor the Earth’s surface regularly; however, a mathematical model, like the one Jessica works with, is necessary to calculate the total amount of reflected radiation. This information is important in a wide variety of applications including general circulation models, energy balance studies, modeling of land use and land use change, as well as biophysical, oceanographic, and meteorological studies.

Jessica also works with satellite data to derive growing season information, including when the growing season starts, peaks, and ends at different locations across the globe. Growing season information is extremely important to the agriculture industry and can help decision makers determine when to plant crops and what varieties to plant.

Jessica has a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. all in Applied Mathematics, but she didn’t take the typical path to get where she is today. She completed a five-year program to earn her B.S. and M.S. simultaneously, taking every other semester off to intern at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center. After she completed that program, she began working full-time at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Two years into her career path, Jessica decided to go back to school to obtain her Ph.D. while still working full time. “It was definitely a challenge to maintain a balance between work, school, and life,” Jessica says, describing her academic journey.

Jessica has always enjoyed math from the time she was a young child. “My father encouraged me from a young age to not accept falsely imposed limitations when he taught me algebra in elementary school—much to my small-town teacher’s disbelief,” she says. As she grew older and learned about all of the different subjects within the mathematics field, she began to appreciate the real-life applications of the theory. Thus far, in her career, Jessica has applied her expertise in many different areas including data compression, smart materials, toxicokinetics, cancer research, and climate science. One of Jessica’s favorite aspects of her job is its multidisciplinary nature. She really enjoys getting to work with different people who have all sorts of backgrounds and unique perspectives.

Outside her career, Jessica has been married to her husband for five years, and the two are expecting their first child in May 2013. She enjoys kayaking, hiking, fishing, vegetable gardening, and needlework. Jessica grew up in Maryland, but considers herself an “honorary” North Carolinian since she has lived in the state for 15 years and married a North Carolina native.

Stay tuned for the next edition of NCDC Insider to meet more of the Center’s dedicated staff.